Effect of HIV stigma on depressive symptoms, treatment adherence, and viral suppression among youth with HIV

Document Type



Paediatrics and Child Health (East Africa); Brain and Mind Institute


Objective: We estimated the effects of HIV stigma on mental health and treatment outcomes for youth with HIV (YWH).

Design: Secondary analysis of data for YWH ages 15–24 years in Western Kenya.

Methods: Participants completed a longitudinal survey (baseline, months 6 and 12) assessing socio-demographics, antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence, depressive symptoms (PHQ-9), and HIV stigma (10-item Wright scale). First viral load (VL) after enrollment was abstracted from records. We estimated risk of depressive symptoms (score > 4), nonadherence (missing ≥2 days of ART in a month), and detectable VL (≥50 copies/ml) for each standard deviation (SD) increase in HIV stigma score, adjusted for age and sex (and regimen in VL model). The generalizing estimating equation models included measures for the three visits.

Results: Median age for the 1011 YWH was 18 years. At baseline, frequency of nonadherence, depressive symptoms and detectable VL was 21%, 21%, and 46%, respectively. Mean stigma score was 25 (SD = 7.0). Each SD stigma score increment was associated with higher risk of depressive symptoms {adjusted relative risk [aRR] 1.31 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.20–1.44]}, nonadherence [aRR 1.16 (CI: 1.05–1.27)] and detectable VL [aRR 1.20 (CI: 1.08–1.32)]. Experienced and anticipated stigma were associated with detectable VL [aRR 1.16 (CI: 1.10–1.22) and aRR 1.23 (CI: 1.12–1.35), respectively]. Internalized and perceived community stigma were associated with depressive symptoms [aRR 1.31 (CI: 1.21–1.40) and aRR 1.24 (CI: 1.13–1.36), respectively].

Conclusions: Stigma was associated with depressive symptoms, nonadherence and detectable VL. Interventions to decrease stigma may improve virologic and mental health outcomes in YWH.

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