HIV Testing Prevalent Among Bipolar Adults

Patients with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are more likely to be tested for human immunodeficiency virus.

Patients with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are more likely to be tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to research published online in AIDS Patient Care and STDs.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine studied patients from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey who had schizophrenia spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and/or anxiety, and then compared them to adults without a mental illness.

Of the 21,785 adult respondents, 15% reported a psychiatric disorder and nearly half (48.5%) had undergone an HIV test. Of those with mental illnesses, 89% reported symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, 8.5% had bipolar disorder, and 2.6% had schizophrenia.

According to the researchers, HIV testing was more prevalent in patients with schizophrenia (64%), bipolar disorder (63%), and depression and/or anxiety (47%). In contrast, only 35% of those without mental illness 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, PhD, in a press release. “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.”

According to the researchers, approximately half of patients with HIV have a psychiatric disorder, and between 5% and 23% of those with mental illness also have an HIV infection. The authors noted that the elevated prevalence of HIV in the mentally ill population suggests that high levels of testing, in addition to other prevention methods, are required.

“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,” Dr. Blank concluded.