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Sexual health promotion is low among people with serious mental illnesses, despite higher risk
Date:2/12/2009

Policy makers and mental health services need to take urgent action to ensure that people with serious mental illnesses receive greater guidance about sexual health, including the risk of HIV, especially if they suffer from schizophrenia.

A UK survey of nearly 300 mental health workers, published in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that although 80% agreed that promoting sexual health was an important part of their role, only 30% routinely discussed sexual health issues with service users.

It also discovered that up to 39% of respondents didn't routinely wear gloves when performing clinical procedures that could expose them to HIV.

"We were encouraged by the respondents' positive attitudes to sexual health promotion and the fact that the majority (78%) agreed that mental health workers should have mandatory training in the subject" says Dr Elizabeth Hughes, who carried out her research at the Institute of Psychiatry and is now based at the University of Lincoln.

"But we were disappointed that less than a third were actually providing the advice and guidance that people with serious mental illnesses need.

"The fact that 14% felt uncomfortable discussing sexual health issues and 13% were uncomfortable discussing gay and lesbian issues may have some bearing on the low level of sexual health promotion recorded by this survey.

"Lack of awareness of the increased HIV risks faced by service users with schizophrenia was also a particular concern, as studies have shown that they have higher HIV infection rates than the general population. These range from 5% in Europe to up to 19% in North America.

"Despite this, UK sexual health strategies don't mention people with serious mental illness as a high risk group, even though studies from various countries, including Australia, suggest that a fifth engage in risky sexual behaviour."

Dr Hughes feels that this lack of
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Contact: Annette Whibley
wizard.media@virgin.net
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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