HIV infection and mental health: suicidal behaviour – systematic review

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2011


Suicide has long been associated with serious illness generally and HIV specifically. New treatments have affected prognosis in HIV positively, but it is unclear how they impact on suicidal burden (thoughts, self-harm and completions). This review examines all published suicide and HIV data for a definitive account of (1) prevalence of HIV-related suicidality, (2) measurement within studies and (3) effectiveness of interventions. Standard systematic research methods were used to gather quality published papers on HIV and suicide, searching published databases according to quality inclusion criteria. From the search, 332 papers were generated and hand searched resulting in 66 studies for analysis. Of these, 75% were American/European, but there was representation from developing countries. The breakdown of papers provided 12, which measured completed suicides (death records), five reporting suicide as a cause of attrition. Deliberate self-harm was measured in 21, using 22 instruments; 16 studies measured suicidal ideation using 14 instruments, suicidal thoughts were measured in 17, using 15 instruments. Navigating the diverse range of studies clearly points to a high-suicidal burden among people with HIV. The overview shows that autopsy studies reveal 9.4% of deceased HIV+ individuals had committed suicide; 2.4% HIV+ study participants commit suicide; approximately 20% of HIV+ people studied had deliberately harmed themselves; 26.9% reported suicidal ideation, 28.5% during the past week and 6.5% reported ideation as a side effect to medication; 22.2% had a suicide plan; 19.7% were generally 'suicidal' (11.7% of people with AIDS, 15.3% at other stages of HIV); 23.1% reported thoughts of ending their own life; and 14.4% expressed a desire for death. Only three studies recruited over 70% female participants (39 studies recruited over 70% men), and six focussed on injecting drug users. Only three studies looked at interventions - predominantly indirect. Our detailed data suggest that all aspects of suicide are elevated and urgently require routine monitoring and tracking as a standard component of clinical care. There is scant evidence of direct interventions to reduce any aspect of suicidality, which needs urgent redress.

Published in

Psychology, Health & Medicine

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 16 , p.588 -611






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