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Clin Psychol Rev. 1997;17(3):271-91.

Risk for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection among persons with severe mental illnesses.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, NY 13244-2340, USA.


Individuals diagnosed with a severe mental illness are at significantly enhanced risk for infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). To better understand elevated seroprevalence in this population, we review the research literature that has investigated HIV-related risk behavior among adults who have a severe and persistent mental illness. This review indicates that 54%-74% of adults report that they have been sexually active in the last year with approximately one third reporting two or more partners. Among those who were sexually active, condom use was inconsistent. A significant minority (4%-35%) of adults also reported a history of injection drug use. Overall, the data indicate that the severely mentally ill engage regularly in practices known to involve increased risk for HIV transmission. We introduce and modify Fisher and Fisher's (1992) theoretical model to organize the possible determinants of HIV-related risk taking among severely mentally ill adults, and encourage use of this model in the design of behavioral epidemiological and risk reduction studies. We also identify several methodological challenges to HIV-related research, including problems associated with the use of self-report measures; diagnostic imprecision; and participant recruitment and retention.

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