HIV is a virus that attacks and alters the immune system. Without treatment it can progress to an advanced stage called AIDS. Receiving a diagnosis of HIV and living with the condition can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health.
The stress of living with a serious condition such as HIV can affect a person’s mental health and increase the risk of developing mood, anxiety, and cognitive conditions. The stigma and discrimination associated with HIV can also result in negative mental health outcomes.
Fortunately, many mental health problems are treatable, and help is available for people living with HIV. Talking therapies, medications, and social support can all be beneficial.
In this article, we will discuss the prevalence of mental health conditions among individuals living with HIV, as well as treatment options, and where to find support.
Research indicates that at the end of 2020, roughly
According to the
There are many specific sources of stress relating to HIV that can contribute towards poorer mental health. People living with HIV may experience difficulties and barriers towards managing and accessing medical support.
Additionally, people living with HIV may experience
Some forms of treatment for HIV, such as antiretroviral therapy (ART), may also cause side effects that can affect mental health. In some cases, experiencing poorer mental health may also affect the
It is also understandable that people may experience a wave of emotions, such as anger and denial, following a HIV diagnosis, which can have an impact on their mental health.
A 2019 review notes that in the United States, the prevalence of HIV is much higher among adults with serious mental health conditions, compared to the general population. This may be due to risk factors they are more likely to experience, such as higher risk sexual behaviors.
The same review adds that people living with HIV experience higher rates of mental health conditions. For example, the review states that in an older U.S. study, 36% of people living with HIV had major depression and 15.8% had generalized anxiety disorder, compared to
Depression is one of the
In addition to the stigma and stress that can contribute towards depression, a 2019 review highlights the potential role of the immune system. Evidence suggests that the chronic stress and inflammation HIV places on the immune system can result in chemical changes associated with depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Suicide ideation, attempts, and risk are high among people living with HIV.
If people suspect that a person is at immediate risk of suicide, they should call 911 or a local emergency number. People should try to provide as much accurate information as the emergency services require.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 800-273-8255.
HIV can cause inflammation throughout the body, including the spinal cord and brain. This
For example, HIV encephalopathy is a potential complication of HIV due to inflammation of the brain. It may cause a person to experience sudden shifts in mood or behavior, forgetfulness, and confusion.
It is important that a person begins
HIV treatment typically involves a combination of ART, which can control and suppress the virus. Following a treatment plan can be difficult, however strategies are available that can help.
While ART can help manage symptoms of HIV, some drugs may
Therefore, it is important for people living with HIV to speak with a healthcare professional about their mental health. This is particularly true since some medications may interact with ART.
A person living with HIV may consider
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer a
Resources also include a search tool that can help people find HIV mental health services in their area and a webpage featuring toll-free phone numbers. The Health Resources and Services Administration also runs a program that provides medical care for people living with HIV with no or insufficient health insurance.
Both HIV and AIDS are highly stigmatized conditions that may cause a person to experience feelings of persecution, isolation, and exclusion. The stress of managing the condition and the medications themselves may also contribute to poorer mental health.
A diagnosis of HIV can be very distressing, and feelings of depression and anxiety are common. However, services are available to help people manage the stigma and discrimination and receive additional support.
It is important for people living with HIV to begin HIV treatment immediately and speak with a healthcare professional about their mental health. A mental health professional can discuss their options and suggest treatments such as talking therapy.