People with mental health disorders are more likely to get tested for HIV than those without mental illness, according to a new report by Penn Medicine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal AIDS Patient Care and STDs, assessed the data from 21,785 adult respondents from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS); the findings provide an update of prior research which used data from 1999 and 2002. The 2007 version is the most recent survey that included information both on mental health diagnoses and HIV testing.
According to the data, 15 percent of respondents reported a psychiatric disorder. Of these, 89 percent had symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, 8.5 percent had bipolar disorder, and 2.6 percent had schizophrenia spectrum disorder.
Among those with at least one mental illness, 48.5 percent had been tested for HIV, compared to a testing rate of 35 percent for those without mental illness. More specifically, 64 percent of persons with schizophrenia, 63 percent of persons with bipolar disorder, and 47 percent of those with depression and/or anxiety reported ever being tested for HIV.
“Our study shows that persons with mental illness and/or their care providers recognize that they are at higher risk and should be tested,” said senior author Michael B. Blank, Ph.D., associate professor in psychiatry at Penn and co-director of the Penn Mental Health AIDS Research Center.
“However, by no means we should be complacent since these results may in large part be due to individual vigilance. The fact is there are few formal prevention and screening efforts targeted at this at-risk population.
“In light of the fact that mentally ill people are more likely to engage in risky behavior, mental health providers should consider routinely offering HIV/AIDS testing, something that does not typically occur now.”
HIV and mental illness are often co-occurring health conditions, with nearly half of persons living with HIV having a psychiatric disorder while five to 23 percent of those with mental illness are infected with HIV.
Furthermore, the data showed that people aged 25-44, women, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals who are widowed/divorced/separated, those who engage in excessive use of alcohol or tobacco, and persons with HIV risk factors were significantly more likely to be tested for HIV than their counterparts.
Prior research has found that people with mental illness are more likely than others to engage in high-risk behaviors associated with HIV transmission, including unprotected sexual intercourse, injection drug use, and sex with multiple partners.
“Our finding that persons with mental illness were tested for HIV at a higher rate than those without mental illness is encouraging and consistent with previous analyses,” said lead author Baligh R. Yehia, M.D., MPP, MSHP, assistant professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Pennsylvania Medicine Program for LGBT Health.
“However, the large number of people with mental illness who still have not been tested necessitates increased public health prevention efforts, particularly in light of the increased HIV risk in this population.”