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Background: There is limited data regarding the prevalence of mental illness and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) amongst female inmates in South Africa. Rehabilitation programmes can only be formulated once the needs of this population have been identified.
Aim: This study aimed to measure the prevalence of mental illnesses, borderline and antisocial personality disorders and HIV amongst female inmates.
Setting: The study was based at a correctional centre in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Methods: This study forms part of a larger two-phased, mixed methods, sequential, explanatory design study. In phase one, 126 female inmates were interviewed using a clinical questionnaire and the Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM)-5 diagnoses – Research Version.
Results: The following lifetime prevalence rates were found: depressive disorder 70.6%, alcohol use disorder 48.4%, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 46.8%, borderline personality disorder 33.3%, substance use disorder 31.7%, antisocial personality disorder 15.1% and psychotic disorder 4.8%. The prevalence of current adult attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder was 9.5%. A total of 39% of the participants admitted to past suicide attempts, whilst 64.3% reported past suicidal ideation and 36.5% had a current episode of a psychiatric disorder. A total of 64.3% of the participants were living with HIV. Although 90.4% had a lifetime psychiatric disorder, only 16.7% were previously diagnosed with a mental illness. The majority of inmates with lifetime disorders had psychiatric comorbidities.
Conclusion: The high prevalence of mental illness and HIV amongst female inmates, and the fact that most with mental illness remain undiagnosed, is concerning. Improved screening, identification and treatment of mental illnesses in this population is needed to ensure optimal mental health outcomes and decreased recidivism.