Prevalence and correlates of probable depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among female sex workers in Lilongwe, Malawi

Int J Ment Health Addict. 2018 Feb;16(1):150-163. doi: 10.1007/s11469-017-9829-9. Epub 2017 Nov 14.


Globally, female sex workers (FSW) experience a high prevalence of mental health disorders, but in sub-Saharan Africa these are rarely identified. If left untreated, mental health disorders may place FSW and their partners at risk for HIV/sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We assessed the prevalence and correlates of probable depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation (SI) in a cohort of 200 FSW in Lilongwe, Malawi. FSW completed the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 and the PTSD Check List-Civilian Version. The prevalence of depression was 8%, as was the prevalence of PTSD. Nearly half (49%) of FSW were experiencing mild depression. FSW were more likely to have probable depression if they completed primary school or initiated sex work before 18 years. They were more likely to have probable PTSD if they had ≥ 20 clients per week or initiated sex work before 18 years. Interventions are needed to diagnose mental health disorders among FSW at great risk for HIV/STIs.

Keywords: PTSD; depression; mental health; sex work; sub-Saharan Africa.