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PLoS One. 2013 Jul 22;8(7):e69109. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069109. Print 2013.

Prevalence rates of mental disorders in Chilean prisons.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Hospital ClĂ­nico Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.



High rates of mental disorders have been reported for prison populations worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The present study aimed to establish prevalence rates of mental disorders in Chilean prisoners.


A nationwide random sample of 1008 prisoners was assessed in 7 penal institutions throughout Chile. Twelve-month prevalence rates were established using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) and compared to the prevalence rates previously published for the general population.


Prevalence rates were 12.2% (95% CI, 10.2-14.1) for any substance use disorder, 8.3% (6.6-10.0) for anxiety disorders, 8.1% (6.5-9.8) for affective disorders, 5.7% (4.4-7.1) for intermittent explosive disorders, 2.2% (1.4-3.2) for ADHD of the adult, and 0.8% (0.3-1.3) for non-affective psychoses. Significantly higher prevalence rates among prisoners as compared to the general population in Chile were seen for major depression (6.1% vs. 3.7% males, Z=2.58, p<0.05) and illicit drug use (3.3% vs. 0.6% males with drug abuse, Z=2.04, p<0.05; 2.6% vs. 0.1% females with drug abuse, Z=5.36, p<0.001; 3.4% vs. 1.1% males with drug dependence, Z=3.70; p<0.001). Dysthymia (6.5% vs. 15.6%, Z=-2.39, p<0.05), simple (3.3% vs. 11.5%, Z=-3.13, p<0.001) and social phobias (3.9% vs. 9.7%, Z=2.38, p<0.05) were significantly less frequent in the female prison population than in the general population. One-year prevalence rates of alcohol abuse (2.3% vs. 3.9%; Z=-2.04; p<0.05) and dependence (2.7% vs. 8.2%; Z=-5.24; p<0.001) were less prevalent in the male prison population than in the general population.


Service provision for prison populations in Chile should acknowledge high rates of depression and illicit drug use. Overall prevalence rates are lower than reported in other LMICs. Previous research in prison populations in LMICs might have overestimated prevalence rates of mental disorders.

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