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HIV Suicides and Cure

Oct 1, 2013

Dr.Young, I wanted to pose a question to you I regard to HIV related suicides. Do you know the statistics on this fact and have you personally known anyone to commit suicide who was infected. I myself am infected. Found out about 5-6 months after initial infection according to my doctor. I'm very happy to report that I'm undetectable now and have been for the handful of months. My friend found out was infected as well last fall. Aside from being scared, shocked and upset. He got on treatment and became undetectable in an even shorter period of time than myself. Only took him 3 months. However, as of late he's thinking of killinfg himself. (I try to tell him don't go down that road) I for one don't see that as a option. Especially since medicine are sooooo much better these days. Plus I believe that we are closer to a cure then ever. He continuously states no cure is possible because its too complex. And that scientist are more focused on a shot to prevent Infections versus comin up with a cure that will dissolve and get rid of the disease all together. Plus I look at it this way. Since we both found out relatively early. ( within months of the infection versus years) and got on treatment rather early. Our chances are much greater to remain healthy undetectable and at a greater chance for being cure when the cure does surface. Am I right. I'm just trying to being him some positive (no pun intended)insight to this of course horrific finding. What's your opinion Doc?

Response from Dr. Young

Hi and thanks for posting.

The issue of serious mental illness and HIV is very important. Indeed, suicide and trauma are increasingly common causes of death among positives who access care and treatment (ie., don't succumb to AIDS-related illness). There are many reasons for these, but as you suggest, the simple fact of having HIV and it's associated stigma, discrimination and fear about medications, fear of disclosure is enough alone to trigger illness.

To the extent that current medications are very effective and well tolerated; to the extent that people who are able to engage in care and adhere to medications can live a *normal* life span- these things should help offset the previous some of the weight of the other issues. Indeed, I encourage those recently diagnosed to learn and embrace these newer ideas, not the important history of the earlier era of disease and complex treatments and their side effects.

We don't do a good enough job in screening and identifying serious mental illness among positives, and perhaps even a worse job in linking and retaining those in need to qualified care providers and treatment. Finding insurers and care providers is just the tip of a big iceberg. There's much more to be done in this area.


Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thanks for writing. Suicide, of course, is a drastic measure. If someone is experiencing pain or other extreme health issues such action begins to seem viable. In too many cases (such as your friend), people have trouble dealing with feelings and adapting to something that is out of their control. Learning to live with a chronic, life-long illness is not easy, and requires a great deal of emotional processing. Sometimes people, for whatever reason, are reluctant to do this. In such cases, thoughts of suicide become an extreme measure by which people try to regain a sense of control over the situation.

As Dr. Young notes, today's medications are very effective and newly diagnosed persons can expect to live a normal life. Feelings aren't rational, however, and fear, shame, anger (or whatever) can undermine one's ability to experience pleasure and can plant the seed for extreme and unnecessary behaviors such as suicide. I would suggest your friend seek counseling to help him address any feelings that appear overwhelming and are blocking him from moving into acceptance and a life filled with happiness and health.

Good luck to you both,


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