Exploring HIV status as a mediator in the relationship of psychological distress with socio-demographic and health related factors in South Africa: findings from the 2012 nationally representative population-based household survey

Background Psychological distress as measured by mental disorders like depression and anxiety is more prevalent in people living with HIV (PLHIV) than in the general population. However, the relationship between mental disorders and HIV is complex and bidirectional. Improved understanding of the relationship between mental disorders and HIV is important for designing interventions for this group. This paper explores the interrelationships of psychological distress with HIV and associated socio-demographic and health-related factors. Methods This secondary data analysis used the 2012 South African population-based household survey on HIV collected using a cross-sectional multi-stage stratified cluster sampling design. Generalized structural equation modelling (G-SEM) path analysis was used to explore the direct and indirect relationships of socio-demographic, health and HIV-related factors with psychological distress as measured by Kessler 10 scale using HIV status as a moderator variable. Results A total of 20,083 participants were included in the study, 21.7% reported psychological distress, of whom (32.6%) were HIV positive. In the final path model with HIV status as a moderator, psychological distress was significantly more likely among age group 25–49 years (AOR: 1.4 [95% CI 1.3–1.6]), age 50 years and older, (AOR: 1.4 [95% CI 1.2–1.6]), females (AOR: 1.6 [95% CI 1.4–1.8]), high risk drinkers (AOR: 1.9 [1.6–2.2]) hazardous drinkers (AOR: 4.4 [95% CI 3.1–6.3]), ever tested for HIV (AOR: 1.2 [95% CI 1.1–1.3]). Psychological distress was significantly less likely among the married [AOR: 0.8 (0.7–0.9)], other race groups [AOR: 0.5 (0.5–0.6)], those with secondary level education (AOR: 0.9 [95% CI 0.8–0.9]), and tertiary level education (AOR: 0.7 [95% CI 0.6–0.9]), those from rural informal [AOR: 0.8 (0.7–0.9)], and rural formal [AOR: 0.8 (0.7–0.9)] areas and those who rated their health as excellent/good [AOR: 0.4 (0.4–0.5)]. Conclusion The findings highlight the importance of designing tailored interventions targeted at psychological distress among PLHIV especially the elderly, females, those with no education and / or low education attainment and those residing in informal urban areas.