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HIV Therapy Linked to Fewer Suicides

Better mental health care still needed for those with the virus, expert says

TUESDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Suicides among people in Switzerland who were infected with HIV decreased by more than half after the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy in 1996, a new study shows.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Yet despite the decrease, the suicide rate among those infected with HIV remained much higher than that of the general population, according to the study, led by Olivia Keiser, from the University of Bern. The researchers also found that the majority of people with HIV who committed suicide had been diagnosed with a mental illness.

The decrease in suicide rates after introduction of the therapy, known as HAART, was associated with an increase in people's CD4 white blood cells, which indicates an improvement in HIV disease status, the researchers said. Before HAART was available, disease progression could not be prevented.

The finding points to the lack of proper mental health care available to people with HIV, the researchers said.

"HAART is not a cure, Keiser said in a news release from the American Psychiatric Association. "Even though the rates of suicide and untreated mental illness in HIV patients have declined, they're both still high and warrant increases in mental health screening and access to pharmacological and psychological treatment for these patients."

The study was published online Dec. 15 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has information on coping with an HIV diagnosis.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Psychiatric Association, news release, Dec. 15, 2009

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