Social isolation is all too common for people who receive a new HIV diagnosis. As Plus previously reported, nearly one-third of older adults living outside nursing homes or hospitals live alone, and those living with HIV are at higher risk for suicide.
In fact, the risk of someone killing themselves because of their diagnosis and a lack of support is so high that it’s time healthcare professionals begin to implement suicide prevention in tandem with HIV testing and care.
One cross-sectional study by the department of psychology at Stellenbosch University in Matieland, South Africa, discovered that suicide rates three times higher among people living with HIV than in the general population.
According to the study, out of 500 people seeking HIV testing, one in five reported suicidal ideation in the previous week, and 24 percent within the previous two weeks. 18.05 percent reported suicidal thoughts, 2.07 percent reported a desire to kill themselves, and 4.15 percent said they’d commit suicide if they had an opportunity.
Dr. Jason Banties, lead researcher of the study, said, “Our findings may be in part a result of the relative homogeneity of our sample in terms of socioeconomic status. Future studies [that] draw from a broader cross-section of individuals may help to identify the socioeconomic and contextual factors that contribute to suicide ideation behavior in this population.”
While the study found no association between suicidal ideation and age, gender, unemployment, family income or food insecurity, it did find strong associations with depressive disorders, anxiety, trauma and stress-related disorder.
Researchers suggest that because these numbers are so prevelent, it's time we start implementing stronger support for those living with HIV who also have mental disorders.
HIV testing doesn’t only need to be administered in clinics. If suicide ideation behavior continues to grow among those living with HIV, it will qualify as a public health problem. It’s time we integrate mental health services inside HIV care systems.
And it starts by simply talking about it.