A new UK study has found that people living with HIV have a suicide rate twice as high as the general population.
The results of the 15-year study were announced yesterday by Sara Croxford of Public Health England at the British HIV Association conference in Liverpool.
The study looked at 90,000 people diagnosed between 1997 and 2012. Of the 6% who died over the course of the study, 58% died from AIDS defining illnesses.
Many of them were diagnosed late or long after infection, when HIV had already begun to wreak havoc on their immune systems.
Half of them had never attended a HIV clinic or received HIV medication.
It also found 2% died as the result of suicide – twice the rate of the general population. Of these, 4 out of ten committed suicide in the first year after diagnosis.
This means that the recently diagnosed men’s suicide rate was five times that of the general population.
Just a handful of women in the study committed suicide: the rate no higher than the suicide rate of women in the general population.
The elevated suicide rate for men did not change between the start of the study in 1997 and the end of the study in 2012.
‘Our findings highlight the need for a reduction in the stigma surrounding HIV, improvements in psychosocial support and routine screening for depression and drug and alcohol misuse, particularly at the time of diagnosis,’ Croxford said.
‘By now, nobody should be dying as a result of HIV infection’
Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM aidsmap said, ‘It’s 2017, we have had effective treatment for HIV for over 20 years. By now, nobody should be dying as a result of HIV infection.
‘The shocking data presented at the BHIVA conference demonstrates the importance of testing. Late diagnosis accounts for the majority of HIV related deaths. The data also forcefully shows that there is still much work to be done to challenge the stigma that surrounds an HIV diagnosis.
‘It’s urgent that people know that with treatment someone can have a normal life expectancy. Both people living with HIV and those who are not living with the virus need to know that an undetectable viral load on treatment means that you will not pass the infection on to your sexual partners.
‘More needs to be done to support people disclosing. The viral closet only creates an environment where misinformation and fear flourish.’
‘We as a community need to have an honest conversation’
Ian Howley, CEO of gay men’s health charity GMFA tweeted his disappointment at the findings, saying, ‘This is simply not acceptable. This is what stigma does.’
He elaborated to GSN, saying, ‘It is totally unacceptable that gay men living with HIV are dying by suicide in 2017. This is the true face of HIV stigma and shows us just how far the negative impact of stigma has on our community.
‘In 2017 no-one should be feeling suicidal after a positive diagnosis. We, as a community, need to go beyond talking about the affects stigma has on newly diagnosed men and start putting words into action. GMFA has led the way in tackling HIV stigma, but we still have a long way to go. Anti-HIV stigma campaigns can only do so much.
‘We as a community need to have an honest conversation as to how we can stop it getting to a point where gay men living with HIV feel like suicide is the best option for them.’
Terrence Higgins Trust run a helpline on 0808 802 1221 (free within the UK) to answer questions about HIV.
Check out crisis intervention helplines for further advice or to talk to someone.