People living with HIV/AIDS are at high risk of suicide

Key Takeaways

  • People living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are at higher risk of suicide than the general population.
  • People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are 100 times more likely to die by suicide.
  • The rate of PLWHA attempting suicide was 158.3 per 1000 and the rate of PLWHA reporting suicidal ideation was 228.3 per 1000.

As of 2018, about 1.2 million people in the United States had HIV According to a systematic review and meta-analysis published General PsychiatryA diagnosis of HIV/AIDS significantly increases the risk of suicide.

According to the CDC, suicide claims one life every eleven minutes in the United States. Unfortunately, the risk of death by suicide increases nearly 100-fold for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).

These devastating statistics demonstrate the need for increased mental health support for PLWHA Given the high suicide rates among PLWHA, particularly in North America, this public health crisis demands urgent action.

Understanding research

This systematic review and meta-analysis analyzed records from more than 185,000 adults living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, to assess their risk factors and events for attempting and completing suicide.

This study found that the risk of completed suicide increased as adult participants progressed from HIV to AIDS, while antiretroviral treatment and higher CD4 counts were protective factors against suicide attempts.

In terms of limitations, there may be differences in the way suicidality is reported and the overall methodology of the study, as this study reviewed a total of 40 full-text articles in this meta-analysis.

Fear of rejection increases risk

Psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida, says, “Decades ago, HIV and AIDS were a death sentence. But today, people across the economic spectrum are living healthy normal lives.”

Howard Pratt, DO

We must continue to educate society as a whole about HIV and AIDS. The more we educate society about heart disease or diabetes, the better things are going to be

– Howard Pratt, DO

Compared to receiving other diagnoses of a chronic condition, Pratt still highlights the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS. “People will not get help because of this stigma. Their fears are often driven by negative associations about sex, substance abuse, low socioeconomic status, and the threat that friends and family will reject them,” says Pratt.

Pratt says, “When someone with the disease hears a relative whispering to another relative not to touch them, that kind of ignorance has real consequences, and that stigma is what pushes people to hide and suffer. We must continue to educate society as a whole about HIV and AIDS. The more we do that, like educating society about heart disease or diabetes, the better things are going to be.”

Stigma contributes to suicide risk

“Compared to chronic conditions such as obstructive lung disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as causes of chronic morbidity and mortality such as dementia, autoimmune diseases and cancer,” Renato (Renier) M. Liboro, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“HIV/AIDS is consistently associated with hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections, neurocognitive disorders, cardiovascular disease, and various mental health problems, all of which place PLWHA at high risk of suicide.”

Given that PLWHA have to deal with comorbid conditions that increase their risk of suicide, Liboro highlights how PLWHA have historically faced syndemic factors found to interact with HIV/AIDS, such as problematic substance use, sexual compulsions, partner violence, homelessness, and depression.

Liboro explained that many PLWHA are sexual and gender minorities, racial and ethnic minorities, injection drug users, and sex workers, who have suffered the increased burden of dealing with the pervasiveness and harmfulness of HIV/AIDS stigma since the beginning of the epidemic. , which remains a consistent driver of suicide.

Social support is essential

Liboro shared how advocacy and activism has been led by and for PLWHA themselves, especially people from the BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, etc. communities.

“This advocacy and activism has opened the door to advances in the treatment and medical management of HIV/AIDS, increased public awareness of the science and information about HIV/AIDS, improved health care and social services for PLWHA, their access to these essential services, prejudice and Recognizing and protecting the human rights of PLWHA against discrimination and combating the criminalization of HIV/AIDS,” he said.

Renato (Renier) m. Liboro, Ph.D

Everyone has a role to play in doing better to help PLWHA—clinicians, service providers, key opinion leaders, policymakers, advocates, collaborators, and academic researchers.

— Renato (Ranier) m. Liboro, Ph.D

While AIDS service organizations have made progress, Liboro reiterates that more still needs to be done to improve equitable access for all PLWHA. Liboro agrees with the recommendation to prioritize suicide risk assessment among PLWHA.

He says, “Everyone has a role to play in supporting PLWHA—clinicians, service providers, key opinion leaders, policymakers, advocates, collaborators, and academic researchers. Stakeholders should maintain a commitment to the Denver Principles (1983) on HIV/AIDS (GIPA/MIPA ) greater and meaningful involvement of people living with and equitably involving PLWHA in that work.”

By Crystal Awakening

Crystal Kavita Jagu is a social activist, committed to anti-oppression practices.

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