Trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in an urban Xhosa primary care population: prevalence, comorbidity, and service use patterns

Paul D Carey, Dan J Stein, Nompumelelo Zungu-Dirwayi, Soraya Seedat
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 2003, 191 (4): 230-6
Despite increased awareness of the prevalence and morbidity of psychiatric illnesses, relatively few studies have been undertaken in primary care settings in the African context. The authors determined the prevalence of trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a South African township primary health care clinic and assessed associated demographic factors, comorbidity, service use, service satisfaction, and quality of life. Subjects were directly interviewed using translated, standardized instruments to assess variables described. Retrospective chart analysis assessed clinician case identification and psychotropic drug-prescribing habits. Of the 201 participants, 94% reported exposure to traumatic events (mean, 3.8). Trauma was associated with single status (p =.01), and PTSD was associated with poverty and single status (p =.04). Both sexes were equally likely to develop PTSD. PTSD (current; 19.9%), depression (37%), and somatization disorder (18.4%) were the most common diagnoses. Comorbidity with PTSD was high and included depression (75%, p <.01), somatization (35%, p <.01), and panic disorder (25%, p <.01). Levels of functional impairment were higher for subjects with PTSD, depression, and somatization than for those without (p <.05). PTSD comorbid with depression compounded impairment (p =.04). Levels of trauma, PTSD, and depression did not increase service use or dissatisfaction with services. Clinicians did not identify trauma (0%) or psychopathology (0%), and psychotropic medication was prescribed for only 1% of participants. In this population, trauma and PTSD were highly prevalent and associated with significant unidentified morbidity and comorbidity. Patients remain untreated for years in the current system of primary care consultations.

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