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Gaceta Médica Boliviana

versión impresa ISSN 1012-2966versión On-line ISSN 2227-3662


BEVILACQUA, Patriccia Andressa. Depression and Suicide Risk in Sex Workers. Gac Med Bol [online]. 2021, vol.44, n.2, pp.139-147. ISSN 1012-2966.

Depression is a public health problem worldwide and one of the principal causes of suicide. The etiology of depression is multifactorial since both biological and psychosocial factors overlap; it is more prevalent in young female adults and in people with a history of adverse life experiences, a very frequent condition in the lives of sex workers.

Research main goal:

to identify the prevalence of depression and suicide risk in sex workers in Cochabamba at the Surveillance, Information and Reference Regional Center (CDVIR, abbreviation in Spanish), from June through December 2019 and to relate such prevalence to psychosocial factors.

Materials and methods:

a study with a quantitative, non-experimental, transversal, and correlational approach, with the participation of 433 sex workers selected by non-probabilistic and accidental sampling, was performed at the health center referred for this population. The instruments used were a questionnaire for sociodemographic data, the Zung Depression Inventory, and the Beck Hopelessness Scale, all self-administered. The study has 95% confidence, with a margin of error of 4.6% and a variance of 50%. The principles of the Declaration of Helsinki were complied with and the written informed consent, signed by each participant, was used.


40% of the people participating in the study presented clinical depression, related positively to these sociodemographic factors: regular alcohol consumption and economic reasons for sex work. Suicide risk was identified in 30% of the respondents, positively related to the sociodemographic factors: lack of religion and high level of education. Depression associated with suicide risk was 1.6 times more than cases related to lack of depression.


sex workers present a high prevalence of clinical depression and a higher risk of suicide, which are associated to sociodemographic factors that can be treated with programs promoting a healthy life and preventing suicide, as well as implementing mental health services that should be available to this sector. Furthermore, authorities, institutions and organizations should be invited for a more in-depth analysis of employment alternatives for women in today's society. The study presents certain limitations since it does not reflect the situation of the entire female population dedicated to sex work, which makes it necessary to look into it in depth. However, its greatest contribution has been to give relevance to the particular situation of a socially invisible sector.

Palabras clave : depression; suicide risk; sex work.

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