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S Afr Med J. 2009 May;99(5 Pt 2):367-73.

The epidemiology of major depression in South Africa: results from the South African stress and health study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, and Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council.



Mental disorders are a major contributor to the burden of disease in all regions of the world. There are limited data on the epidemiology of major depressive disorder in South Africa.


A nationally representative household survey was conducted between 2002 and 2004 using the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) to establish a diagnosis of depression. The dataset analysed included 4351 adult South Africans of all racial groups.


The prevalence of major depression was 9.7% for lifetime and 4.9% for the 12 months prior to the interview. The prevalence of depression was significantly higher among females than among males. The prevalence was also higher among those with a low level of education. Over 90% of all respondents with depression reported global role impairment.


In comparison with data from other countries, South Africa has lower rates of depression than the USA but higher rates than Nigeria. The findings are broadly consistent with previous findings in South Africa. These findings are the first step in documenting a level of need for care in a context of significant under-funding of mental health services and research in South Africa

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