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Prevalence, recurrence, and incidence of current depressive symptoms among people living with HIV in Ontario, Canada: results from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network Cohort Study


Introduction — Current studies of depression among people living with HIV focus on describing its point prevalence. Given the fluctuating nature of depression and its profound impacts on clinical and quality-of-life outcomes, this study aimed to examine the prevalence, recurrence and incidence of current depressive symptoms and its underlying catalysts longitudinally and systematically among these individuals.

Methods — We conducted a prospective cohort study between October 1, 2007 and December 31, 2012 using longitudinal linked data sources. Current depressive symptoms was identified using the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale or the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, first at baseline and again during follow-up interviews. Multivariable regressions were used to characterize the three outcomes.

Results — Of the 3,816 HIV-positive participants, the point prevalence of depressive symptoms was estimated at 28%. Of the 957 participants who were identified with depressive symptoms at baseline and who had at least two years of follow-up, 43% had a recurrent episode. The cumulative incidence among 1,745 previously depressive symptoms free participants (at or prior to baseline) was 14%. During the five-year follow-up, our multivariable models showed that participants with greater risk of recurrent cases were more likely to feel worried about their housing situation. Participants at risk of developing incident cases were also likely to be younger, gay or bisexual, and unable to afford housing-related expenses.

Conclusions — Depressive symptoms are prevalent and likely to recur among people living with HIV. Our results support the direction of Ontario’s HIV/AIDS Strategy to 2026, which addresses medical concerns associated with HIV (such as depression) and the social drivers of health in order to enhance the overall well-being of people living with or at risk of HIV. Our findings reinforce the importance of providing effective mental healthcare and demonstrate the need for long-term support and routine management of depression, particularly for individuals at high risk.



Choi SK, Boyle E, Cairney J, Collins EJ, Gardner S, Bacon J, Rourke SB. PLoS One. 2016; 11(11):e0165816.

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