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HIV/AIDS and Mental Health

by Louise December 14th, 2018 | Health Observance, Mental Health
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sadDecember 1st marked the beginning of Aids Awareness Month in the U.S. The negative side effects of HIV/AIDS  are generally thought of just as physical problems, which makes some sense because those symptoms are part of the diagnosis. However, HIV/AIDS is such a devastating illness that it can often have repercussions on mental health. According to AIDS.gov, people who are living with HIV/AIDS often end up with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or mania. Because mental health disorders are not as obvious on the surface level, it makes it that much more important to watch out for them.

A successful HIV treatment is concomitant with good mental health, and good mental health is essential for leading a happier and healthier life with HIV. How can HIV affect your mental health? If someone is already using psychiatric medications before taking HIV medications, the patient will need to tell his or her healthcare provider so that they can be aware of the possible interactions between the drugs. Some drugs, such as antiretroviral drugs, can intensify existing mental health issues, such as depression. The healthcare provider should know to look out for this.

In addition to affecting previous conditions, HIV can also be the direction cause of a change in behavior or functioning, because it can affect the nervous system when the immune system is damaged. In advanced cases of HIV disease, dementia can be a result of the virus. Having HIV can also be a major source of stress, one of the major influences on mental health. This makes it critical that one’s mental health status be assessed as soon as possible.

Again, the healthcare providers need this information to assess changes in a patient’s thinking or behavior. They especially need to be able to see if there is a pattern of behavioral change over time. How do you know when someone needs help? Some significant signs of a mental health disorder include no longer finding enjoyment in activities which one usually enjoys, feeling “sad” or “empty” frequently, experiencing panic attacks, or withdrawing from social interaction. Someone affected by a mental illness may also have sleeping issues; he or she may sleep too much, sleep too little, or feel tired all the time. A change in memory function is also a possible symptom to look out for. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders associated with HIV, and it can be treated. There is no shame in talking about feelings of depression. Knowing that there are resources available to help and reaching out to get help are equally as important as identifying the problem. There is always more to be learned about HIV/AIDS. For example, do you know how HIV and diet are connected? For more resources and information, visit AIDS.gov.

(Photo courtesy of Scott Liddell)

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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.