Evaluating suicide risks in Veterans with HIV/AIDS
Principal Investigator: 

Dr. Gina Signoracci

MSRC postdoctoral pilot grant award

A variety of factors are known to increase the risk of suicide both among the general population as well as among Veterans and military personnel. For example, individuals with cognitive dysfunction are at an increased risk for suicide as are those with psychological distress, which can include depression or anxiety.

It is also well known that those with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) may experience cognitive dysfunction or psychological distress, or both. Individuals with HIV/AIDS are known, for example, to have higher rates of depression and anxiety and to experience stressful life events more often than those who do not have HIV/AIDS. Similarly, individuals with HIV/AIDS have been found to have difficulties with a variety of cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, planning, and cognitive flexibility. These cognitive deficits can result from either the disease itself or from the treatments for the disease. In the early days of the HIV epidemic, these impairments were sometimes severe, and patients sometimes exhibited what was known as HIV-associated dementia. Since improved antiretroviral treatments have become available, extreme impairments have become much less common. However, individuals with HIV/AIDS may experience subtle yet potentially insidious cognitive deficits that are likely to accrue over time.

To summarize, those with HIV/AIDS may experience psychological distress and cognitive deficits which may relate to increased suicide risk. However, no research has explored the potential utility of neuropsychological testing as a key component of suicide risk.

Thus, Gina Signoracci at the VISN 19 Denver VA Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) is carrying out a study to explore this relationship. Findings from this study are expected to highlight, for Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) providers, the benefits of comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation within an infectious disease setting.