Trauma, Stress and Mental Health in South Africa


Principal Investigator:
David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health

Department of Society, Human Development, and Health

Dates of Research:
September 1, 2006 — December 31, 2008


This project seeks to systematically examine the prevalence and mental health consequences of exposure to politically motivated trauma and violence in South Africa. It will consider the psychological sequelae of violent acts for both perpetrators and survivors. In addition, in one of the countries of the world hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic, this study will explore the psychological impact of the perceived threat of HIV/AIDS. This work has the following specific aims: 1) to learn about the prevalence and distribution of exposure to politically motivated trauma during apartheid; 2) to assess the relationship between exposure to trauma and mental health; 3) to assess the association between perceived vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and the risk of psychiatric disorders; 4) to study the effects of a series of hypothesized stress-diathesis variables in modifying the associations between stress exposure and mental health; 5) to estimate the current prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of commonly occurring mental disorders in South Africa and the role impairments associated with these disorders; 6) to investigate the impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on mental health; and 7) to study predictors of informal and professional help-seeking among South Africans who currently have mental disorders.