Suicidal ideation in seropositive patients seen at a South African HIV voluntary counselling and testing clinic
Objective: Suicidal behaviour and HIV/AIDS are significant public health concerns. The aim of this study was to investigate suicidal ideation in patients who were referred to a voluntary HIV counselling and testing (VCT) clinic and who were found to be seropositive. This in order to improve suicide prevention and intervention strategies amongst such patients. Method: The sample studied consisted of volunteer adult patients referred over a three-month period to a HIV VCT clinic based at a university-affiliated general state hospital. Patients completed a questionnaire on sociodemographic data. Suicidal ideation was measured using the Beck Hopelessness Scale and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), at two time points (within 72 hours after notification and again at a 6 week follow-up). All patients received extensive pre-and post-test counselling. Results: HIV-test results were available for 189 (99.5%) of the original sample of 190 patients studied, with 157 (83.1%) testing positive. More females tested positive as did unemployed and single/divorced patients. The mean age for HIV-positive patients was 33.49 (SD = 9.449), and for HIV-negative patients it was 37.94 (SD = 15.238). Age was a significant factor in that for each year increase in age, the risk of testing HIV-positive decreased by 4.1%. Lower education and traditional beliefs were also significantly associated with testing HIV-positive. At 72 hours suicidal ideation was present in 17.1% (95% confidence interval 12.16% to 23.45%), and at 6 weeks in 24.1% (95% confidence interval 17.26% to 32.39%) of the seropositive patients. Their average BDI scores were 15.20 and 14.23 respectively at the two time points. Conclusion: Suicidal ideation was present in a significant number of the seropositive cohort studied and increased over a six week period among these patients. The average BDI scores at both time points imply a clinical depression. The findings also suggest an association between positive HIV-test results and certain socio-demographic variables that can act as indicators for suicidal ideation in HIV-infected persons, although this requires further research. Although the relationship between suicidal ideation and HIV-infection is complex, it is an important consideration when assessing patient suicide vulnerability at HIV VCT clinics and when implementing suicide prevention and management strategies.
Keywords: Suicidal ideation; HIV-infection; Voluntary counselling and testing