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People living with HIV at 100 times greater risk of suicide: study

People around the world living with HIV are at greater risk of poor mental health and suicide, according to a new study.

The research from Penn State College of Medicine analysed data from over 185,000 people in Europe, North and South America, and Australia.

It found that people living with HIV were 100 times more likely to die by suicide.

The research revealed that half of people with HIV experienced suicidal thoughts, and half of these attempted suicide.

People living with HIV in North America were 50 times more likely to die by suicide compared to those living in Europe. 

The highest rates of suicide attempts among people living with HIV were found in North and South America, and Australia.

The risk was higher for people who were newly diagnosed and those who had AIDS – the syndrome that occurs with severe damage to the immune system.

AIDS is increasingly rare in Australia and other developed countries where effective treatment is readily available for HIV.

The researchers said that despite significant medical advances in HIV treatment and quality of life, the risk of suicide is still high and warrants mental health screening by healthcare providers for people living with HIV.

“There is an urgent need to prioritise mental health screening and care into all HIV testing and treatment settings,” said Dr Paddy Ssentongo, researcher and epidemiologist. 

“Suicide risk should be assessed in all HIV patients, especially in those who are newly diagnosed and those with advanced disease.”

Around 38 million people worldwide are living with HIV.

The researchers highlighted possible factors that may lead to suicidal thoughts in people with HIV, including illness and stigma.

The study found that people being treated with antiretroviral therapy were at lower risk of suicide. 

The researchers noted that mental health screenings and interventions are crucial for people living with HIV.

If you or someone you know needs support, please refer to our list of community services and resources.

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