LONDON — HIV-negative gay men who have several symptoms of depression are more likely to report sex without a condom, according to a study presented to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV conference in Glasgow this week, AIDSmap reports.
Several past studies have shown that poor mental health is frequently experienced by gay men. Some American studies have found an association between depression and risky sex, or depression and seroconversion to HIV, but there has been little data on the issue in HIV-negative gay men in the UK, AIDSmap reports.
To fill this gap, researchers analyzed data from a recent survey of people attending sexual health clinics. Only untested or HIV-negative people took part. Of about 2,000 participants, 1,173 were men who have sex with men who had had sex in the past three months, researchers reported.
The data presented was cross-sectional, researchers said, meaning it comes from a single point in time. While it showed a strong association between depression and risky sex, causality is not known the AIDSmap article said.
Participants’ median age was 31. The majority were white, had a college degree and were attending a clinic in London. Just under half were in an ongoing relationship.
Depressive symptoms were measured by a validated tool known as PHQ-9, which asks respondents how often they have recently been bothered by problems such as “little interest or pleasure in doing things” and “feeling that you are a failure or have let yourself down,” the article said.
Based on the answers, 12.5 percent of HIV-negative gay men attending sexual health clinics had depressive symptoms at the time, considerably higher than the general population but about half the rate seen for HIV-positive people in another survey. The symptoms were moderate for most, but 5.5 reported severe symptoms.
Depression was more common in men who were younger, had money problems, did not have a university degree and were not in an ongoing relationship. It was also more common among regular smokers, heavy drinkers and men who used multiple recreational drugs, AIDSmap reports.
Among those with depressive symptoms, 58 percent said that a doctor had told them they had a mental health condition and 52 percent were receiving treatment.
Respondents were asked about various measures of intercourse without a condom in the past three months — with anybody (reported by 63 percent of all men), with two or more partners (reported by 32 percent) and with a partner of unknown or HIV-positive status (reported by 37 percent), researchers said.
Men with depressive symptoms were more likely to report all of these behaviors, the AIDSmap article said.