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Public Health Program


Background: In Cambodia, there has been an increase in entertainment work as a result of the breakdown of the traditional brothel-based sex industry, presenting new challenges to addressing the health issues and needs of people working in the entertainment industry. This study aims to identify factors associated with psychological distress among female entertainment workers (FEWs) in Cambodia.

Methods: A two-stage cluster sampling method was used to randomly select 657 FEWs from entertainment establishments in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in April and May 2014 for interviews using a structured questionnaire. Psychological distress was measured using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), and multivariate logistic regression analysis was conducted.

Results: Almost half of FEWs (43.2 %) had a higher level of psychological distress (GHQ-12 > 3), while 19.5 % reported having suicidal thoughts, and 7.3 % reported having attempted to commit suicide in the past 3 months. Controlling for confounding factors, women with a higher level of psychological distress were significantly more likely to rate their overall health (AOR = 1.88, 95 % CI 1.20 to 2.94) and quality of life (AOR = 2.39, 95 % CI 1.47 to 3.87) as poor. They were also significantly more likely to have suicidal ideation (AOR = 2.41, 95 % CI 1.45 to 3.76), rate their HIV risk as higher than the general population (AOR = 0.48, 95 % CI 0.31 to 0.74), have been forced to drink at work (AOR = 1.77, 95 % CI 1.19 to 2.62), have had clients requesting not to use a condom (AOR = 3.48, 95 % CI 1.14 to 10.62), be not able to find condoms when they needed it (AOR = 0.64, 95 % CI 0.45 to 0.93), have had a family member who said hurtful things to them during childhood (AOR = 1.84, 95 % CI 1.24 to 2.75), and have had a parent or guardian who had been physically abused (AOR = 1.93, 95 % CI 1.34 to 2.82).

Conclusions: FEWs in Cambodia experience high levels of psychological distress, which likely stems from both past negative experiences and current working conditions. For women that are experiencing psychological distress, intervention programs aimed at improving mental health should specifically address substance use, condom availability and negotiation skills, and suicide risk.

Publisher's Statement

Originally published in BMC Public Health, 16 [Article 133]. Licensed under CC BY 4.0. doi:10.1186/s12889-016-2814-6


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