Mental health consumers are now recognized as a high risk
group for HIV infection, with published estimates of infection rates ranging between 5-8%. For many people, having a mental illness means confronting periods of unemployment, unstable housing situations,
limited family and social support, and disruptions in everyday functioning. As a result, consumers may engage in high risk behaviors, namely alcohol and recreational drug use as well as frequent and
unprotected sexual encounters, as a way to cope with stigma and isolation. Early denial of consumers' sexuality and disparaging attitudes towards their substance use limited the attention paid to HIV/AIDS
within the mental health services system. Now, increased recognition of the impact of HIV among consumers has led to a growing awareness that HIV risk assessment, harm reduction, prevention, and education
programs are a vital component in a comprehensive array of programs and services.
Research, training, education, and treatment regarding
HIV/AIDS among mental health consumers are vital issues to be addressed by providers in all types of service settings. In addition, continued developments in the treatment of HIV disease require adherence to
complicated medication regimens as well as attention to the many psychosocial issues related to living with a chronic illness, both of which pertain to mental health services. The MHSRP has developed several
projects which address the ongoing needs of mental health consumers and providers with regard to HIV/AIDS. The HIV Positive Mental Health Consumer Support Group
Leadership Training Project is designed to assist mental health consumers living with HIV develop and facilitate support groups for other consumers affected by HIV/AIDS. The MHSRP also is one of seven sites in the federally funded Mental Health Care Provider Education Program in HIV/AIDS. This program supports the training and education of service providers on the fundamental issues in HIV/AIDS, as well as
advanced topics such as neurobehavioral aspects of HIV, ethical concerns in service delivery and treatment access, and the specific needs of providers working with consumers with severe mental illnesses. In
addition, the MHSRP is conducting the Protease Inhibitor Adherence among HIV Seropositive Women project, in collaboration with Cook County Hospital, which examines self-reported adherence to medication regimens. Another line of inquiry focuses on women with HIV/AIDS using data from the Women's Interagency HIV Study, a multi-center study of factors influencing disease progression, including social and behavioral influences on women's outcomes.