Prevalence of psychological distress and associated factors in urban hospital outpatients in South Africa

Karl Peltzer, Supa Pengpid, Linda Skaal


Objective. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of psychological distress and associated factors among outpatients in an urban hospital in South Africa.

Method. A sample of 1 532 consecutively selected patients (56.4% men and 43.6% women) from various hospital outpatient departments were interviewed with a structured questionnaire.

Results. Based on assessment with the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, a measure of psychological distress, 17.1% of the patients (15.5% of men and 19.4% of women) had severe psychological distress. Logistic multiple regression identified no income, poor health status, migraine headache and tuberculosis as significant factors associated with severe psychological stress for men. For women the factors identified were lower education, no income, having been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, stomach ulcer and migraine headache.

Conclusion. The study found a high prevalence of psychological distress among hospital outpatients in South Africa. Brief psychological therapies for adult patients with anxiety, depression or mixed common mental health problems treated in hospital outpatient departments are indicated. Accurate diagnosis of co-morbid depressive and anxiety disorders in patients with chronic medical illness is essential in understanding the cause and optimising the management of somatic symptom burden.


Psychological distress; Common mental disorders,; Prevalence; Associated factors; Hospital outpatients; South Africa

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Submitted: 04 May 2011
Published: 01 February 2012

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)