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People With Mental Illness Are Being Ignored by HIV Testers

mental illness HIV

Those living with mental illness are at higher risk than most, so why are they being ignored? 

According to a new study published in Psychiatric Services, despite the fact that people who suffer from mental illness are at higher risk to contract HIV, they’re only slightly more likely to get tested than the general population. 

Researchers found that in 2011, seven percent of Medicaid patients in California who were taking medications to treat bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, or other mental health issues had been tested for HIV, compared to five percent of the rest of Californians. 

Those numbers were discovered after researchers studied nearly 57,000 Medicaid patients from records between 2010 and 2011, all of whom were being treated for some kind of mental health issue.

According to the study, those living with mental illnesses have a 15 percent higher risk of becoming HIV-positive than the general public. 

As Plus previously reported, people living with HIV may be isolating themselves from society as a result of issues like depression — a mental health issue that also compounds other health problems like HIV, especially among Black gay men. Those with depression are more likely to self-medicate with drugs and alchohol. People with mental illness are alos more likely to end up homeless or in prisons than the general population. All of these elements combine to make people with mental illness die up to 25 years earlier than the general population. That's all the more reason they should be getting tested for things like HIV, argues the new study's lead author, Dr. Christina Mangurian.

“This is a missed prevention opportunity to detect HIV early in the course of illness,”  Mangurian said in a statement to the press. “People with severe mental illness have higher rates of unsafe behaviors that put them at risk for HIV infection.” 

The lesson is clear: Those who suffer from mental illness need to have greater access to HIV testing. 

“Effective treatments are widely available and people with severe mental illness appear to comply with antiretroviral therapies at rates similar to other groups,” Mangurian concluded. “We believe that annual HIV testing should be strongly considered by public mental health administrators." 

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