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Study: People Living With HIV 100X More Likely to Die by Suicide

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Researchers say HIV health services need to prioritize mental health screenings. 

New research out of Penn State College of Medicine has found that people living with HIV and then who acquire AIDS are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or die by suicide. Researchers on the project said that HIV services should better prioritize mental health screenings in people living with HIV, even with the medical advancements made for those living with the disease.

The study from Penn State indicates that for every two people living with HIV who have suicidal thoughts, one person will attempt suicide, according to Penn State University. In the general public, from those who have suicidal thoughts, one out of three will attempt suicide.

More than 700,000 people die by suicide each year, according to the World Health Organization

Penn State’s research is the result of analyzing data from over 185,000 adults living with HIV around the world. The researchers found that people living with HIV were 100 more times likely to die by suicide than those who were not.

“There is an urgent need to prioritize mental health screening and care into all HIV testing and treatment settings,” Dr. Paddy Ssentongo, a researcher on the study, said, according to the university. “Suicide risk should be assessed in all HIV patients, especially in those who are newly-diagnosed and those with advanced disease.”

Ssentongo and his co-researchers found that people living with HIV in North America were 50 times more likely to die by suicide than those in Europe. North America, South America, and Australia have the highest number of suicide attempts in people living with HIV, according to the study.

The researchers said that factors contributing to the number of suicide attempts and deaths by suicide could be the advancement of the virus, neurological changes, and social stigma.

"We were not surprised that the risk of suicide is higher in [those living with HIV]," Ssentongo told HealthDay News. "Nevertheless, we did not expect such a significant degree of increased risk."

"Screening for major depression and suicide should be incorporated in the health care plan for treating HIV," Ssentongo said. "In addition, families and friends of [people living with HIV] should take an active role in advocacy against HIV stigmatization,” and provide support to those individuals.

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