A University of Birmingham-led study shows that people living with HIV have a 63% higher risk of developing any mental health condition in comparison to people without HIV.
Due to the expanded access of antiretroviral therapy used to suppress HIV replication in immune cells, people living with HIV are now living longer than ever before, however researchers from the Institute of Applied Health Research have established that those with HIV often experience co-existing conditions: in the UK, people living with HIV were found to be at a 94% increased risk for depression, a 38% increased risk for anxiety and a 2-fold risk for severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The study, published in The Lancet HIV, shows that the risk also differs across key groups, most notably in males living with HIV who were at a significantly higher risk for mental illness compared to those without HIV and compared to females with HIV.
Tiffany E Gooden, Research Fellow and PhD student in the Institute of Applied Health Research, and lead author said: “Having a mental health condition can be extremely damaging to a person’s wellbeing and quality of life. For people living with HIV who often experience real and perceived stigma, discrimination and social isolation, mental illness can lead to further challenges for accessing the care and support they need. Additionally, poor mental health increases the risk of other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and people living with HIV are already at a heightened risk for such conditions.
Mental illness in people living with HIV may also impact adherence to treatment thus increase the risk of AIDS and onward transmission of HIV. To further improve the life expectancy and wellbeing of people living with HIV and reduce incident cases, our findings highlight the importance for further research on the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of mental illness for this vulnerable population.Tiffany E Gooden, Research Fellow and PhD student in the Institute of Applied Health Research, and lead author.
This is the first study of its kind to look at the risk of incident mental illness as a composite measure in people living with HIV, and the first to provide high quality evidence that people living with HIV are at a higher risk of developing mental illness.
Previous studies had shown limited evidence on whether the development of mental illness occurs before or after the HIV diagnosis, however this latest study confirms that for many people living with HIV and mental illness, the HIV infection preceded the latter.
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The findings of the study support regular screening for mental illness in people living with HIV while highlighting the need to determine effective interventions for reducing mental illness in people living with HIV including pharmacological interventions, reducing stigma, and improving social and economic policies for addressing the complex psychosocial factors associated with mental illness within this population.