Women who are HIV-positive or are abused are more
likely to think about or attempt suicide, according to a
new study by researchers from the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health, George Washington University
and St. Michael's Hospital, in Toronto, Canada.
The Hopkins study, consistent with previous research,
sheds new light on the extent to which being in an abusive
relationship compounds suicide risk for HIV-positive women
in particular. This latest study is published in the
March/April issue of Women's Health Issues.
"Given that suicide is the fourth leading cause of
death for women ages 15 to 44, there is a need for further
research on risk and opportunities for prevention," said
Andrea C. Gielen, lead author of the study and deputy
director of the
Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg
The researchers used data from Project WAVE (Women,
AIDS and the Violence Epidemic) to examine the rates of
suicidal thoughts and attempts, as well as to gauge anxiety
and depression. They also set out to learn how these
outcomes differed based on women's HIV and abuse
experiences. The women were all living in low-income urban
neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Of the 611 women interviewed, 31 percent reported
having thought about suicide, and 16 percent reported
having attempted suicide. Abused women were four times more
likely than nonabused women to have thought about suicide.
The researchers also found that among HIV-positive women,
those recently diagnosed thought about suicide more
In addition, one-half of the study participants
reported problems with depression, and 26 percent reported
problems with anxiety. Twenty-four percent of nonabused,
HIV-negative women had problems with depression, whereas 72
percent of abused, HIV-positive women reported the same.
Abused, HIV-positive women were seven times more
likely to report problems with depression, 4.9 times more
likely to have problems with anxiety, 3.6 times more likely
to have thought about suicide and 12.5 times more likely to
have attempted suicide, when compared to HIV-negative,
nonabused women. The researchers also note that abused,
HIV-negative women were at an elevated risk for depression,
anxiety, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, indicating
that the abuse is associated with the negative outcomes.
"Health care and service providers who interact with
women who may be HIV-positive or are in an abusive
relationship should routinely look for mental health
issues, such as suicidal thoughts. It may be the case that
crisis intervention is needed to help women in these
situations," said Gielen, who is also a professor in the
Department of Health Policy and Management.
The study was supported by a grant from the National
Institute of Mental Health.
Additional co-authors were Jessica Griffin Burke,
Karen A. McDonnell and Patricia J. O'Campo.