Almost every person faces mental health challenges at some point. Major stresses - like the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, or moving - can have a major impact on mental health. Having a serious illness, like HIV, can be another source of major stress. You may find that a diagnosis of HIV challenges your sense of well-being or complicates existing mental health conditions. HIV and some opportunistic infections can also affect your nervous system and can lead to changes in your behavior.
Good mental health will help you live your life to the fullest and is essential to successfully treating HIV. To help manage your mental health, it is important to know when, how, and where to get help. Many mental health conditions are treatable and many people with mental health conditions recover completely.
Frequently Asked Questions
One of the most common mental health conditions that people living with HIV face is depression. Depression can range from mild to severe, and the symptoms of depression can affect your day-to-day life. Both HIV-related medical conditions and HIV medications can contribute to depression.
Symptoms can include:
- Feeling sad or anxious often or all the time
- Not wanting to do activities that used to be fun
- Feeling irritable‚ easily frustrated‚ or restless
- Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Waking up too early or sleeping too much
- Eating more or less than usual or having no appetite
- Experiencing aches, pains, headaches, or stomach problems that do not improve with treatment
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
- Feeling tired‚ even after sleeping well
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Thinking about suicide or hurting yourself
At times, the problems of life can take a toll on people. Some might feel trapped, hopeless, or might wonder what they have to live for. If you are having thoughts like these or are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, know that you are not alone and that things can change.
You can also:
- Call your HIV health care provider.
- Get help from another health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader, or someone else in your faith community.
Your provider may ask you some questions to assess how you are feeling and may prescribe medications to help with depression or anxiety or refer you to a mental health specialist.
If you are taking antiretrovirals (ARVs) or plan to, consider the following:
- Sometimes ARVs can relieve your anxiety because knowing you are taking care of yourself can give you a sense of securing.
- However, some ARVs may cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance, and may make some mental health issues worse. Talk to your health care provider to better understand how your HIV treatment might affect your mental health and if anything can be done to address the side effects.
- Also, some medicines for mental health conditions or mood disorders can interact with ARVs.
Communicate openly and honestly with your health care provider about your mental health so that he or she can help you find the support you need. Discuss any changes in the way you are thinking, or how you are feeling about yourself and life in general.
Because mental health conditions are common, many outlets can help you maintain good mental health. If you are having symptoms of depression or another mental health condition, talk to your health care provider, social worker, or case manager. These people can refer you to a mental health provider who can give you the care you need.
Types of mental health providers include:
- Psychiatrists: Medically trained physicians who treat mental health problems with various therapies, like talk therapy, and by prescribing medicine.
- Psychologists: Trained professionals who help people cope with life challenges and mental health problems with therapies, like talk therapy, but usually cannot prescribe medicines.
- Therapists: Mental health or marriage and family counselors who help people cope with life issues and mental health problems.
You may also choose to join a support group. Support groups include:
- Mental health support groups: An organized group of peers who meet in a safe and supportive environment to provide mental health support to members of the group.
- HIV support groups: An organized group of peers living with HIV who meet in a safe and supportive environment to provide support to other people living with HIV.
Work with a trained mental health professional to learn about treatment options such as therapy and/or medicine. You and your provider can develop a plan that will help you regain and maintain good mental health.
Other ways to help improve mental health and well-being include:
- Exercise: Regular exercise may help improve symptoms of depression and decrease stress. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals help improve your mood.
- Meditation: Recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease depression, anxiety, and stress.
Many organizations have websites and telephone hotlines that can help you find treatment for mental health conditions.
- Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Find Help website provides a list of organizations and contact numbers that can help you find mental health treatment and support in your local area.
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program
The Ryan White program provides HIV care and essential support services – including mental health – for people living with HIV who do not have insurance or need help with costs.
“Addressing my mental health helped me get on HIV treatment.”
Real people share their experiences with mental health and HIV. They speak openly about struggles they faced with depression and mental health, where they found support and the importance of self-love.