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J Int AIDS Soc. 2010 Nov 15;13:44. doi: 10.1186/1758-2652-13-44.

Associations between depressive symptoms, sexual behaviour and relationship characteristics: a prospective cohort study of young women and men in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

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Department of Psychology, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.



Psychological factors are often neglected in HIV research, although psychological distress is common in low- to middle-income countries, such as South Africa. There is a need to deepen our understanding of the role of mental health factors in the HIV epidemic. We set out to investigate whether baseline depressive symptomatology was associated with risky sexual behaviour and relationship characteristics of men and women at baseline, as well as those found 12 months later.


We used prospective cohort data from a cluster randomized controlled trial of an HIV prevention intervention in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Our subjects were 1002 female and 976 male volunteers aged 15 to 26. Logistic regression was used to model the cross-sectional and prospective associations between baseline depressive symptomatology, risky sexual behaviors and relationship characteristics. The analysis adjusted for the clustering effect, study design, intervention and several confounding variables.


Prevalence of depressive symptoms was 21.1% among women and 13.6% among men. At baseline, women with depressed symptoms were more likely to report lifetime intimate partner violence (AOR = 2.56, 95% CI 1.89-3.46) and have dated an older partner (AOR = 1.37, 95% CI 1.03-1.83). A year later, baseline depressive symptomatology was associated with transactional sex (AOR = 2.60, 95% CI 1.37, 4.92) and intimate partner violence (AOR = 1.67, 95% CI 1.18-2.36) in the previous 12 months. Men with depressive symptoms were more likely to report ever having had transactional sex (AOR = 1.48, 95% CI 1.01-2.17), intimate partner violence perpetration (AOR = 1.50, 95% CI 0.98-2.28) and perpetration of rape (AOR = 1.81, 95% CI 1.14-2.87). They were less likely to report correct condom use at last sex (AOR = 0.50, 95% CI 0.32-0.78). A year later, baseline depressive symptomatology was associated with failure to use a condom at last sex among men (AOR = 0.60, 95% CI 0.40-0.89).


Symptoms of depression should be considered as potential markers of increased HIV risk and this association may be causal. HIV prevention needs to encompass promotion of adolescent mental health.

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