Men with HIV are twice as likely to die by suicide
HIV-positive men are twice as likely to die by suicide than members of the general population.
The shocking stat comes from a fifteen-year study of almost 90,000 people diagnosed with HIV in England and Wales, presented by Sara Croxford of Public Health England at this week’s British HIV Association conference.
The data shows that while AIDS-defining illnesses accounted for 58% of deaths among people living with HIV, the rate of suicides in this group, at 2%, was twice that seen in the general population.
Women’s suicide rates were not higher than those in the general population.
Suicide is most likely to occur in the first year following diagnosis, with four in ten suicides occurred during this time. Recently diagnosed men’s suicide rate is five times that of the general population.
The study monitored men’s health over a 15 year period, from 1997 to 2012, but no evidence was recorded of a fall in suicides over the study period.
Suicides occurred both in people linked and not linked to care, and in people on and off treatment.
While the researchers do not have data on social or behavioural factors that might explain the findings, the particularly high rate of suicide in the first year of an HIV diagnosis suggest that stigma, difficulties adapting to the diagnosis, insufficient mental health provision and a lack of support services contribute to suicide.
Public Health England researcher Sara Croxford said: “Our findings highlight the need for a reduction in the stigma surrounding HIV, improvements in psychosocial support and routine screening for depression and drug and alcohol misuse, particularly at the time of diagnosis.”
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Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM Aidsmap, said: “It’s 2017, we have had effective treatment for HIV for over 20 years. By now, nobody should be dying as a result of HIV infection.
“The shocking data presented at the BHIVA conference demonstrates the importance of testing. Late diagnosis accounts for the majority of HIV-related deaths. The data also forcefully shows that there is still much work to be done to challenge the stigma that surrounds an HIV diagnosis.
“It’s urgent that people know that with treatment someone can have a normal life expectancy. Both people living with HIV and those who are not living with the virus need to know that an undetectable viral load on treatment means that you will not pass the infection on to your sexual partners.”
He continued: “More needs to be done to support people disclosing.
“The viral closet only creates an environment where misinformation and fear flourish. HIV stigma discourages people from accessing testing and honest conversations about what it means to be living with HIV now. HIV stigma is killing people. It must end.”
According to the research, people living with HIV have a mortality rate six times as high as the general population.
The most significant cause of death was AIDS-defining illnesses (58%), almost always in individuals who were diagnosed late and over half of whom had never attended HIV clinical care.
Other causes of death included cancers (8%), cardiovascular disease or stroke (8%), infections (8%), liver disease (5%), substance misuse (3%) and suicide (2%).
If you have been affected by issues in this article, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org