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Original Research

The Relative Contributions of Psychiatric Symptoms and AIDS Knowledge to HIV Risk Behaviors Among People With Severe Mental Illness

Karen McKinnon, MA; Francine Cournos, MD; Richard Sugden, MA; Jeannine R. Guido, MA; and Richard Herman, MA

Published: November 15, 1996

Article Abstract

Background: This study was designed to determine whether psychiatric symptoms and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) knowledge predict human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk behavior among people with severe mental illness.

Method: We interviewed 178 psychiatric patients to determine Axis I diagnosis, level of functioning, severity of psychiatric symptoms, knowledge about AIDS, sexual risk behaviors in the previous 6 months, and drug injection since 1978. Severity of psychiatric symptoms was rated on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale within the classification of positive, negative, cognitive, excited, and depressed/anxious symptoms.

Results: Ninety-two patients (51.7%) reported being sexually active in the previous 6 months. Of sexually active patients for whom data were available, 44 (47.8%) of 92 had multiple sex partners; 32 (35.2%) of 91 used drugs during sex; 27 (29.7%) of 91 traded sex for drugs, money, or other goods; and 50 (58.1%) of 86 never used condoms. Thirty-one patients (17.5%) had drug-injection histories. The median AIDS knowledge score was 23 (82.1%) of 28. Although AIDS knowledge was negatively correlated with cognitive and negative symptoms and positively correlated with excitement, knowledge alone did not predict any risk behavior. However, when AIDS knowledge was taken together with age and excited symptoms, the odds of being sexually active versus abstinent were three times higher among patients with better AIDS knowledge and twice higher among patients with greater excited symptoms. Having multiple sex partners was nearly three times as likely among patients with greater positive symptoms. Trading sex was more than three times as likely among patients with schizophrenia than among those with other diagnoses and more than five times as likely among those with more excitement symptoms.

Conclusion: Patients, particularly those who were sexually active, were well informed about AIDS. Specific psychiatric conditions, including the presence of positive and excited symptoms and a diagnosis of schizophrenia, predicted certain sexual risk behaviors and must be the focus of innovative prevention efforts.

Volume: 57

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