Past abuse is related to poor mental health in HIV-positive women

May 19, 2003

Women with HIV who are young, in poor physical health, in conflict with others, and who have been physically abused by a partner in the past are at greater risk for developing mental health and drug abuse problems, according to a new study.

The study of HIV-infected women published in the May-June issue of Women's Health Issues found that women who reported past physical abuse were 2.1 times more likely to have a probable psychiatric disorder than women without a history of past abuse, according to Cathy Sherbourne, Ph.D., of RAND, and colleagues.

Identifying risk factors before psychiatric problems occur could help such women stick to their prescribed therapies and to seek out health care more often, say the researchers.

Sherbourne and colleagues also found that poverty and the burden of caring for someone else may keep women with HIV from obtaining necessary medical care.

"Competing needs were substantial among these women, with 52 percent reporting a need for income assistance, 20 percent reporting a need for home health care and 11 percent reporting going without care because money was needed instead for food, clothing or housing in the last six months," Sherbourne says.

"This study suggests that such delays in seeking care because of caregiving obligations may translate into poorer mental health outcomes," she adds.

Of the 847 women with HIV surveyed for the study, 55 percent had a probable psychiatric condition, most commonly a mood disorder. About 20 percent of the women with a probable psychiatric condition had a mood disorder along with a drug or alcohol abuse problem.

Women with a mood disorder were more likely to be young and physically sick from their HIV infection. They were also less likely to be working and more likely to have difficulties with their daily chores and other activities.

Women with mood disorders or drug abuse problems also reported spending less time with other people and having more disagreements with family and friends.

"Our findings suggest that we need to address women's need for safety from [abusive] partners and we may need special programs for women burdened with having to care for others," Sherbourne says.

FOR MORE INFORMATION Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or
Interviews: Contact Warren Robak, Media Relations, RAND at 310-393-0411.
Women's Health Issues: Contact Carol S. Weisman at 202-863-4989.

Center for Advancing Health

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