Mental health problems increase risk of HIV in men having sex with men

16 January 2015
An HIV ribbon

Researchers have found that men who have sex with men (MSM) suffering from five specific mental health conditions, including depression, alcohol abuse, stimulant use, multi drug abuse and childhood sexual abuse, all lead to increased sexual risk behaviour and HIV infection. Until recent nothing was known about these mental health factors predicting HIV risk behaviours or becoming infected with HIV.

The study included 4,295 MSM living in five large cities in the United States, all participants were negative at the initiation of the study. Participants were screened for the five mental health conditions included in the study, and subsequently tested for HIV every six months for the four year duration of the study. At the end of the study, six percent of the participants were infected with HIV. The researchers found that HIV infections rates were highest among men dealing with four or five of the identified mental health problems. Of these men with four or five of the conditions, 15.2 percent became HIV positive, compared to just 3.3 percent of the participants with no mental health condition.

A similar trend was seen looking at sexual risk behaviour, the men with more mental health issues were more likely to display risky sexual behaviour than men without any mental health issues. The study concluded that men living with four or five mental health issues were almost nine times more likely to contract HIV than men living without mental health issues.

This research is important for the improvement of HIV prevention strategies, as mental health problems can get in the way of traditional HIV messaging and interventions. Mental health factors drives risky sexual health behaviour and should be addressed within combination prevention approaches, so to be more effective in MSM. Further research is also needed to determine if these mental health issues and behavioural risk factors create barriers to men getting treatment for HIV.

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