Mental health in people with HIV, key to preventing suicides

Mental health in people with HIV, key to preventing suicides

Throughout the 40 years HIV has been present in the world stage, receiving a diagnosis of this infection has had several meanings. At the beginning of this pandemic, fear, stigma and discrimination prevailed. Now, these phenomenons have smoothed out a lot in some contexts, while in others, they keep having a great weight.

Given that nowadays, people with HIV  are able to live for as long as those without HIV, a research team from the Pennsylvania State University in the United States, asked themselves what role has mental health played in this life expectancy increase, specially regarding one indicator: suicide.

Area of interest

Since a person with HIV faces great changes in their life, such as having to take daily medications or living with a diagnosis that is often difficult to share in their family, social or working environment, scientists set out to find the frequency of suicidal tendencies in people with HIV.

When speaking of suicidal tendencies, this means both suicidal thoughts as well as attempts and deaths by suicide. For this, they carried out a review of 40 previous studies which involved more than 185 thousand people with HIV from 14 countries, with Brazil being the only Latin American country with 3 studies.

With the analysis, the researchers concluded that despite that currently, antiretroviral treatments are successful and that they allow people with HIV to live for many more years, there is still a psychosocial burden which is rarely diagnosed, much less treated.

Thus, the incidence of complete suicides found in the study was 10.2 per every 1,000 people with HIV, while in the general population incidence is 0.11/1,000. This means that people with HIV are 100 times more likely to commit suicide.

As for suicide attempts, global incidence was calculated to be 158.3 for every 1,000 people with HIV, but when we observe the data by region, the highest numbers were seen in North America (Canada and the United States) with 212.3/1,000; South America (Brazil) with 232.2/1,000 and Australia with 213.4/1,000. These numbers are very much above the 3% of suicide attempts in the general population.

Finally, suicidal thoughts incidence was 228.3/1,000 in people with HIV, much higher than the 9% which is registered among the general population.

A problem to address 

The research team highlights that this is the first time that the suicide rate is demonstrated to be 100 times higher in people with HIV than in people who do not have the virus in such a broad and diverse sample.

However, they also state that the risk is directly linked with the progression of HIV, meaning that antiretroviral treatment and higher levels of defense cells (called CD4) seem to have a protective effect against suicide attempts.

This is why, scientists suggest including this risk within medical attention for HIV, since this will increase longevity and quality of life for people who live with the virus.

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