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Lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in South Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Dan J. Stein*
University of Cape Town
Soraya Seedat
University of Stellenbosch
Allen Herman
Medical University of Southern Africa, Pretoria
Hashim Moomal
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Steven G. Heeringa
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ronald C. Kessler
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
David R. Williams
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Dan J. Stein, UCT Department of Psychiatry, Groote Shuur Hospital J-2, Anzio Road, Observatory 7925, Cape Town, South Africa. Email:
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Data on the lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in South Africa are of interest, not only for the purposes of developing evidence-based mental health policy, but also in view of South Africa's particular historical and demographic circumstances.


A nationally representative household survey was conducted between 2002 and 2004 using the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) to generate diagnoses. The data-set analysed included 4351 adult South Africans of all ethnic groups.


Lifetime prevalence of DSM–IV/CIDI disorders was determined for anxiety disorders (15.8%), mood disorders (9.8%), substance use disorders (13.4%) and any disorder (30.3%). Lifetime prevalence of substance use disorders differed significantly across ethnic groups. Median age at onset was earlier for substance use disorders (21 years) than for anxiety disorders (32 years) or mood disorders (37 years).


In comparison with data from other countries, South Africa has a particularly high lifetime prevalence of substance use disorders. These disorders have an early age at onset, providing an important target for the planning of local mental health services.

Copyright © Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2008 


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