Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 45, Issue 11, pp 1043–1054 | Cite as

Impact of psychiatric and social characteristics on HIV sexual risk behavior in Puerto Rican women with severe mental illness

  • Emily Lenore Goldman HeaphyEmail author
  • Sana Loue
  • Martha Sajatovic
  • Daniel J. Tisch
Original Paper



Latinos in the United States have been identified as a high-risk group for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. HIV/AIDS has disproportionately impacted Latinos. Review findings suggest that HIV-risk behaviors among persons with severe mental illness (SMI) are influenced by a multitude of factors including psychiatric illness, cognitive-behavioral factors, substance use, childhood abuse, and social relationships.


To examine the impact of psychiatric and social correlates of HIV sexual risk behavior in Puerto Rican women with SMI.


Data collected longitudinally (from 2002 to 2005) in semi-structured interviews and from non-continuous participant observation was analyzed using a cross-sectional design. Bivariate associations between predictor variables and sexual risk behaviors were examined using binary and ordinal logistic regression. Linear regression was used to examine the association between significant predictor variables and the total number of risk behaviors the women engaged in during the 6 months prior to baseline.


Just over one-third (35.9%) of the study population (N = 53) was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and GAF scores ranged from 30 to 80 with a median score of 60. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 50 years (M = 32.6 ± 8.7), three-fourths reported a history of either sexual or physical abuse or of both in childhood, and one-fourth had abused substances in their lifetimes. Bivariate analyses indicated that psychiatric and social factors were differentially associated with sexual risk behaviors. Multivariate linear regression models showed that suffering from increased severity of psychiatric symptoms and factors and living below the poverty line are predictive of engagement in a greater number of HIV sexual risk behaviors.

Practical implications

Puerto Rican women with SMI are at high risk for HIV infection and are in need of targeted sexual risk reduction interventions that simultaneously address substance abuse prevention and treatment, childhood abuse, and the indirect effects associated with SMI such as living in poverty. Mental health programs should address risk behavior among adults with SMI in the context of specific symptomatology and comorbidities.


HIV sexual risk behavior Severe mental illness Puerto Rican Psychiatric history profile 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health R01 MH-63016. We thank Ingrid Vargas and Jenice Contreras for their efforts in shadowing the study participants and we thank our participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily Lenore Goldman Heaphy
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sana Loue
    • 2
  • Martha Sajatovic
    • 3
  • Daniel J. Tisch
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Medicine, Room E202, Division of Infectious DiseasesCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA
  2. 2.Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, WG37, School of MedicineCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity Hospitals of Cleveland Case Medical CenterClevelandUSA

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