In the wake of World Aids Day, a recent study presented evidence that AIDs/HIV awareness is taking a step in the right direction. The prevalence of HIV among people in mental health care is four times higher than the general population, and as found by researchers from the University Pennsylvania and the CDC, health care workers are recognizing this increased risk and giving mental health patients adequate HIV testing.

The first step towards treating your HIV is to get tested, but discrimination among people with mental health issues and substance use disorders can often deter them from seeking health care, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported. The link between mental health and increased risk for HIV was identified nearly as soon as HIV became publically recognized. As reported by Psychiatric Times, in the early 1990s, shortly after the identification of HIV, the HIV clinic at Johns Hopkins found that 54 percent of patients had a mental health disorder other than substance abuse, and 74 percent had a substance use problem.

A recent study from Penn University and the CDC, reviewed of the results of 21,785 adult respondents from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. According to the India Times, of those who responded, 15 percent of those who responded reported a psychiatric disorder. Among those who reported having at least one mental illness, 48.5 percent had been tested for HIV. This is compared to the only 35 percent of those without mental illness reporting to have been tested.

This increased percentage of testing among the mentally ill is good news, showing that health care providers recognize the increased risk for mental health patients.

"Our study shows that persons with mental illness and/or their care providers recognize that they are at higher risk and should be tested," explained senior author Michael B. Blank, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, as reported by India Times.

Not only does mental illness increase the risk of infection with HIV but also simply having HIV/AIDS increase the lifetime prevalence of psychiatric illness. For example, it’s been observed that HIV can increase the severity of already existing psychiatric disorders. This thus will go on to interfere with the patient’s ability to follow directions and adhere to both HIV and mental health treatment.

In order for HIV treatment to work well, patients must take up to 90 percent of their medication, but past research has that the same psychiatric risk factors that increase the transmission of HIV also interfere with the a patient’s adherence to treatment. Hopefully increased awareness will help these at risk patients receive the aide they require.

Source: Blank MB, Yehia BR, Cui W, et al. HIV Testing Among Adults with Mental Illness in the United States. Aids Patient Care and STDs. 2014