Psychosocial health problems increase risk for HIV among urban young men who have sex with men: Preliminary evidence of a syndemic in need of attention

  • Brian Mustanski
  • Robert Garofalo
  • Amy Herrick
  • Geri Donenberg


Background: Young men who have sex with men (YMSM) experience disparities in HIV rates and potentially in mental health, substance abuse, and exposure to violence.Purpose: We assessed the extent to which these psychosocial health problems had an additive effect on increasing HIV risk among YMSM.Methods: An urban sample of 310 ethnically diverse YMSM reported on psychosocial health problems, sexual risk behaviors, and HIV status. A count of psychosocial health problems was calculated to test the additive relationship to HIV risk.Results: The prevalence of psychosocial health problems varied from 23% for regular binge drinking to 34% for experiencing partner violence. Rates of sexual risk behaviors were high and 14% of YMSM reported receiving a HIV + test result. Psychosocial health problems cooccurred, as evidenced by significant bivariate odds ratios (ORs) between 12 of the 15 associations tested. Number of psychosocial health problems significantly increased the odds of having multiple anal sex partners (OR=1.24), unprotected anal sex (OR=1.42), and an HIV-positive status (OR 1.42), after controlling for demographic factors.Conclusions: These data suggest the existence of cooccurring epidemics, or “syndemic,-of health problems among YMSM. Disparities exist not only in the prevalence of HIV among YMSM but also in research to combat the epidemic within this vulnerable population. Future research is needed to identify risk and resiliency factors across the range of health disparities and develop interventions that address this syndemic.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Mustanski
    • 1
  • Robert Garofalo
    • 2
    • 3
  • Amy Herrick
    • 3
  • Geri Donenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Juvenile Researchthe University of IllinoisChicago
  2. 2.Children’s Memorial Hospital/Northwestern University Feinberg School of MedicineUSA
  3. 3.Howard Brown Health CenterUSA

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