Understanding HIV-related posttraumatic stress disorder in South Africa: a review and conceptual framework

  • Charles Young


A number of epidemiological studies have attempted to measure the prevalence of HIV-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in sub-Saharan Africa. A systematic review of the literature identified eight relevant studies that put current estimates of the prevalence of HIV-related PTSD between 4.2% and 40%. Even the lower estimates suggest that PTSD in response to the trauma of being diagnosed and living with HIV is a significant mental health burden. However, a conceptual framework to advance our understanding of the prevalence and phenomenology of HIV-related PTSD is lacking. This article argues that the Ehlers & Clark (2000) cognitive model of PTSD provides a useful conceptual framework for understanding HIV-related PTSD in South Africa. The model emphasises the role of trauma appraisals in the development and maintenance of PTSD, which can also be usefully applied to some of the other psychological disorders associated with HIV infection. The model appears to fit some of the important research findings, and it offers insights into the relationships between HIV-related PTSD and other psychological disorders, HIV  stigma, the high prevalence of non-HIV traumatic events, occasional problems with the delivery of antiretroviral drugs in the South African public health service, the unpredictable course of HIV illness, and the quality of HIV testing and counselling. Implications for individual treatment strategies and broader public health interventions are briefly discussed.

Keywords: cognitive model; health interventions; health promotion; HIV/AIDS; mental health; prevalence; psychological aspects; PTSD

African Journal of AIDS Research 2011, 10(2): 139–148

Author Biography

Charles Young
Rhodes University, Department of Psychology, PO Box 94, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445