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October 21, 1992

Risk of Suicide Among Persons With AIDS: A National Assessment

Author Affiliations

From the National Cancer Institute, Viral Epidemiology Section, Rockville, Md (Drs Coté and Biggar), and Injury Prevention Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, Md (Dr Dannenberg).

JAMA. 1992;268(15):2066-2068. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490150118035

Objective.  —We sought to describe the rate, risk, trends, methods, and distribution of suicide among persons with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the United States.

Design.  —We used National Center for Health Statistics multiple-cause mortality data from 1987 through 1989 to identify suicides among persons with AIDS (PWAs) and public-access AIDS surveillance data to determine person-years of observation of PWAs.

Patients.  —Residents of the United States with death certificates indicating suicide.

Main Outcome Measure.  —Death certificates indicating both AIDS and suicide.

Results.  —In 1987 through 1989, a total of 165 suicides among PWAs occurred in 45 states and the District of Columbia. All but one case were male. Among males the rate was 165 per 100000 person-years of observation, 7.4-fold higher than among demographically similar men in the general population. Self-poisoning with drugs was both the most common method (35%) and the method with the highest standardized mortality ratio (35). Suicide risk for PWAs decreased significantly (P<.05) from 1987 to 1989.

Conclusion.  —Persons with AIDS have an increased risk of suicide, and assessment of such risk should be a standard practice in their care. These assessments should be carefully considered when potentially lethal medications are prescribed. The declining trend in suicide rates between 1987 and 1989 is encouraging; possible causes include emerging therapies for human immunodeficiency virus/AIDS, better psychiatric care for these patients, and lessened social stigma against PWAs.(JAMA. 1992;268:2066-2068)

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