Study: HIV incidence 4x higher in people with mental health diagnoses

A recent study took a look at the incidence of HIV in people who had mental health diagnoses, and found that they were four times more likely to be HIV positive than the general population.

There were people who were being treated either as inpatients on a psychiatric unit, who were outpatients at a psychiatric hospital, or were receiving mental health services in community mental health centers. The research was done at sites in Philadelphia, PA and Baltimore, MD. Over 1,000 patients were included in the study and were tested for HIV. All HIV screening tests were later confirmed with a Western blot analysis.

The incidence of HIV infections in the general populations of Philadelphia and Baltimore are both about 1.3%. Testing on the patients in this study showed that, overall, 4.9% of patients currently being treated for psychiatric illnesses were HIV positive. Patients in the inpatient psychiatric units averaged 5.9% positive. In the group of patients who were outpatients at the psychiatric hospitals, the rate of HIV infection was 5.1%. In the community mental health centers is was around 4%. Also, more than 12 patients who didn’t think that they were HIV positive when they agreed to participate in the trial, were found to be HIV positive after testing.

Mental health via Shutterstock

Mental health via Shutterstock

The researchers were surprised that so many patients were found to be HIV positive. These patients had all been in previous psychiatric treatment. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that these patients get tested for HIV. Apparently some clinical sites were failing to do this.

Additionally, the researchers found that the more severe the psychiatric symptoms were, the higher the risk for infection with HIV.

Often, the patients with the most severe mental illnesses (e.g., psychosis) are hospitalized. In this study, those patients who were hospitalized had the highest rate of HIV infection (>5%). Those with less severe symptoms, treated in the community setting, had a lower (4%) rate of HIV infection. But even that rate was significantly higher than the rate in the general population (1.3%.)

This research also showed that there was a higher incidence of HIV infections in the psychiatric population for people who were African-American, gay or bisexual, and/or who were infected with Hepatitis C.

This study points out that those patients with mental illness may not be getting screened for HIV appropriately, and some may be inadequately treated or even not treated at all. The authors state: “These findings reinforce recommendations for routine HIV testing in all clinical settings to ensure that HIV-infected persons receiving mental health services are identified and referred to timely infectious disease care.”

There are a number of other groups that also seem to be falling through the cracks and not getting screened for HIV. Teens, African-American men, those who have limited access to health care, and the aging population, among others, have all been identified as groups where access to HIV testing is limited or underutilized. This study indicates that patients with mental illness need to be included with those groups, as well.


(NOTE FROM JOHN: It’s hugely important to our continued success that you share our stories on social media by using the “Like” buttons at the top and bottom of this story to share it on Facebook, Tweeting it to your friends, and sharing it on other services. Without that additional traffic, our advertising dies, and so do we. We need your help – if you like one of our stories, please share it online.)


Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

Share This Post

  • http://www.herpeswoo.com/ HerpesWoo.com

    This study points out that those patients with mental illness may not be getting screened for HIV appropriately

  • AnthonyLook

    Mental ill patients have active sex lives. Many suffer from hypersexuality and even sex addiction, additionally many patients are sexually exploited and some may demonstrate inappropriate or predatory behavior. Still others suffer from medication induced sexual dysfunction. Many patients utilize sex as a substitute for acceptance, friendship and love. This all points to a serious need to provide update and relevant specific information for a population often ignored.

  • BillFromDover

    In other words… don’t date a conservative and avoid this site like the plague?
    http://www.christianmingle.com/landing/forcedsplash3-2rb-top10?prm=82738&lgid=0011p1KciL?

  • http://www.herpeswoo.com/ HerpesWoo.com

    A recent study took a look at the incidence of HIV in people who had
    mental health diagnoses, and found that they were four times more likely
    to be HIV positive than the general population.

  • Indigo

    It stands to reason that people confronting mental health issues have little energy left to focus on personal health care, sanitation, and even nutrition. Helping to keep them focused, if you know folks suffering in that mode, is a corporal and probably a spiritual act of mercy. We should always watch out for each other.

  • Silver_Witch

    I am thinking the incident of any illness is higher in the mentally ill – because usually the treatment plan for those who suffer from mental illness is to write every symptom off to their illness and up the psych meds. I speak from experience.

  • http://madisonleathersmith.com leathersmith

    deep depression was my downfall. just not caring anymore.

© 2014 AMERICAblog News. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS