Domestic violence in patients visiting general practitioners - Prevalence, phenomenology, and association with psychopathology

Marais A. ; De Villiers P.J.T. ; Moller A.T. ; Stein D.J. (1999)

Article

The original publication is available at http://www.samj.org.za

Article

Background. It has been suggested that domestic violence is not only highly prevalent and associated with significant morbidity, but that it is also overlooked by medical practitioners. Despite this, few studies have focused on domestic violence in the South African setting, so that there is a paucity of data here on its prevalence, phenomenology, and associated psychopathology. Methods. Sixteen general practitioners from the South African Sentinel Practitioner Research Network (SASPREN) screened all their female patients aged 18 years or older for a 3-month period (N = 1.050). A sociodemographic questionnaire was completed, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression were assessed, both in subjects with a history of domestic violence and in a control group without such a history. Results. 21.5% of patients reported a history of domestic violence at screening. Patients and controls did not differ significantly in terms of age or race. However, patients with a history of domestic violence were significantly more likely to be married, not to have begun a high-school education, and to be working outside the home. Both PTSD and major depression were significantly more common in patients with a history of domestic violence (35.3% and 48.2%, respectively) than in controls (2.6% and 11.4%, respectively). Compared with other patients reporting domestic violence, those with either PTSD or major depression were subjected to more violence and were more likely to report a suicide attempt. Conclusion. In a large, diverse population of adult female patients presenting to a range of general practitioners in South Africa, there was a high prevalence of reported domestic violence. A significant association was found between domestic violence and both PTSD and major depression, with these diagnoses indicative of increased severity of abuse and increased morbidity. Routine screening by medical practitioners of all female patients for a history of domestic violence seems warranted, and patients with a history of domestic violence should be assessed for PTSD and depression.

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