Trauma history in African-American women living with HIV: Effects on psychiatric symptom severity and religious coping

Julie R. Brownley, Roger D. Fallot, Rebecca Wolfson Berley, Seth S. Himelhoch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Women living with HIV (WLHIV) have rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) up to 5 times higher than the general population. Individuals living with HIV and a concurrent diagnosis of PTSD have poorer HIV-related outcomes; however, the prevalence and impact of PTSD on African-American WLHIV seeking mental health treatment is unknown. The aim of this study is to examine the associations between PTSD symptoms with psychiatric symptom severity and psychological/religious coping strategies in African-American WLHIV who are seeking mental health treatment. This is a cross-sectional study of 235 African-American WLHIV attending an urban community mental health clinic. Bivariate analyses were conducted to evaluate associations between a PTSD symptoms scale (PSS ≥ 21 versus PSS < 21) and (1) psychiatric severity, (2) coping strategies, and (3) religious coping strategies. Thirty-six percent reported symptoms consistent with PTSD (PSS ≥ 21). These women were significantly more likely to have worse mental health symptoms and were more likely to employ negative psychological and religious coping strategies. On the contrary, women with a PSS < 21 reported relatively low levels of mental health symptoms and were more likely to rely on positive psychological and religious coping strategies. Over one-third of African-American WLHIV attending an outpatient mental health clinic had symptoms associated with PTSD. These symptoms were associated with worse mental health symptoms and utilization of dysfunctional religious and nonreligious coping strategies. Untreated PTSD in WLHIV predicts poorer HIV-related health outcomes and may negatively impact comorbid mental health outcomes. Screening for PTSD in WLHIV could identify a subset that would benefit from evidence-based PTSD-specific therapies in addition to mental health interventions already in place. PTSD-specific interventions for WLHIV with PTSD may improve outcomes, improve coping strategies, and allow for more effective treatment of comorbid mental health disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)964-971
Number of pages8
JournalAIDS Care - Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 3 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Taylor & Francis.


  • AIDS
  • African-American
  • HIV
  • coping
  • mental health
  • screening
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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