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Nearly One-Third of South Africans Surveyed Suffer from a Psychiatric Disorder

March - April, 2008  |  Volume 7, Issue 2

Patient at a South African psychiatric hospital
Nearly one-third of
South Africans suffer
from psychiatric
disorders. (WHO/P.
Virot)

Nearly one-third of South Africans participating in a Fogarty-supported study reported having suffered from one or more psychiatric disorders over the course of their lives.

A nationally representative household survey was conducted from 2002 to 2004, which included 4,351 adult South Africans of all ethnic groups. The analysis, led by Dr. Dan J. Stein of the University of Cape Town and his research team, was published recently in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The most prevalent mental disorders were related to alcohol abuse at 11.4 percent, with major depression and agoraphobia both at 9.8 percent. The most common class of disorder was anxiety disorders at 15.8 percent, followed by substance abuse at 13.3 percent and mood disorders at 9.8 percent. The lifetime prevalence estimate of having had any disorder was 30.3 percent, with 11.2 percent of respondents having two, and 3.5 percent having three or more disorders.

The team found an increased lifetime prevalence of substance abuse disorders among the non-white group. Although this group is a diverse one, it was given a distinct status during apartheid rule when workers on wine farms were paid with alcohol.

The high prevalence and early onset of psychiatric disorders, together with the growing acceptance that people with mental illness have a right to treatment, create important policy implications, the authors conclude. They express hope that the survey results are sufficiently compelling to provide impetus for changes in South Africa's mental health policy with an appropriate increase in funding for services.

Lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in South Africa. Stein DJ, Seedat S, Herman A, Moomal H, Heeringa SG, Kessler RC, Williams DR. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2008). 

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