Researchers have long known that people with mental illnesses are at higher risk for many disorders, such as diabetes and heart disease. A new study finds that they are also more prone to being HIV positive.
Researchers tested over a thousand patients at mental health clinics or psychiatric units, both in Philadelphia and Baltimore. They found rates of HIV infection almost four times higher than in the general population.
Michael Blank of the Penn Mental Health AIDS Research Cente, who headed up the study, says it’s hard to pin down why the rates are higher.
“Substance abuse is definitely part of the mix here,” he said, “and there is an increased risk of HIV infection among mentally ill people who also use substances.”
Blank says some people with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder are more likely to engage in high risk behaviors.
Blank says mental health centers should routinely test people for HIV – along with illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease:
“Community mental health centers could serve as medical homes, and could do routine screening for common illnesses that occur more frequently among people with mental illnesses”
Blank says clinics could then take the vital next step: connecting HIV positive people swiftly with care.