HealthMental HealthHow AIDS Can Impact Your Mental Health - Complications & Treatments

How AIDS Can Impact Your Mental Health – Complications & Treatments

HIV or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the cells that fight off infection in the body. The virus leaves the body vulnerable to all diseases by weakening it from the inside.

HIV can be spread most commonly through contact of bodily fluids i.e., through unprotected sex (sex without a condom) and intravenously, which is when people share needles or injections.

It is a lifelong condition which can be managed but not cured entirely. Untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS occurs during the last stage of the HIV virus, when the body’s immune system cannot fight it off. If left untreated, AIDS is most definitely fatal.

However, due to great progression in medicine, HIV is now a very manageable disease. If people with HIV receive Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) judiciously, their chances of developing AIDS is slim to none.

HIV does significantly affect people’s lifestyles. Living with HIV can lead to psychological problems of HIV patients, emotional effects of HIV, and some neurological disorders. In this article, we will discuss HIV and mental health, psychological treatment for HIV patients and the relation between HIV and psychiatric disorders.  

Are People With HIV At Risk For Mental Health Conditions?

Yes, people with HIV are at a higher risk for mental health issues due to the unique circumstances they find themselves in, coupled with the life-changing steps they have to take in order to survive. The relation between HIV/AIDS and mental health, therefore, is a little complex.

While mental health issues and psychiatric disorders are not contingent on physical health, people with HIV are likely to be more susceptible to certain types of disorders. Some of the most common ones are:

  1. Depression
  2. Anxiety
  3. Substance Abuse Disorder
  4. Bipolar Disorder
  5. Suicidal thoughts

These issues, of course, can be present before the HIV diagnosis also. However, some treatments can cause mood changes as well.

What Can Cause Mental Health Problems In People With HIV?

Due to the high stress and social stigma associated with the disease, it makes people that are HIV positive more vulnerable to mental health issues. HIV is a serious medical illness which requires lifelong treatment in order to prevent the possibility of AIDS. Due to this, the effect of HIV on a person’s mental health is inevitable.

Social isolation, societal shame and stigma, loss of familial support are unfortunately common occurrences for people with HIV. These external influences combined with the stress of the disease, cause mental anguish and HIV related mental disorders.

Due to the HIV infection, there are chances that other infections can affect the brain and the rest of the nervous system. These infections can lead to changes in a person’s behaviour, moods and thought processes. Furthermore, some medication used to treat HIV may also have side effects that deteriorate a person’s mental health.

What Are Other Complications/Mental Health Disorders That Can Be Caused Due To HIV?

Due to the overarching spread of HIV, the infection causes a significant amount of inflammation in the body. This inflammation in turn, can cause neurological complications by damaging the spinal cord and the brain.

Neurological complications caused by HIV can occur despite undergoing ART (antiretroviral treatment).  These can be either neurological or neurocognitive.

Some neurological issues that affect the nervous system for people with HIV are dementia, brain atrophy and encephalitis. Though, they are less common if the person is taking ART. 

HIV – Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND) are neurological disorders caused or associated with HIV, which appear during the later stages of the disease. It includes memory impairment, apathy, lethargy, trouble concentrating, poor balance and tremors. 

Treatment And Preventive Measures

Thankfully, mental health as a subject is now spoken about more openly and access to mental health services has become easier. Most mental health issues are very treatable, and if you feel that you are having symptoms of a mental health issue, or are unsure, we encourage you to talk to someone you feel comfortable with, or a doctor or even a therapist. By speaking to a professional, you can figure out how best to treat your mental health issues.

If you are someone with HIV and have symptoms of depression or anxiety, we strongly urge you to get professional help. Living with a complex disease can take a toll on your body and mind, and with the help of an expert, you can learn how to cope and manage yourself better. You can speak to –

  1. Psychiatrists:

Psychiatrists are medically trained professionals that can diagnose and treat mental health disorders with therapy and medication.

  1. Psychologists:

Psychologists are trained professionals that offer various types of therapies and coping mechanisms for people with mental health issues.

For HIV patients, the doctor may also suggest joining a support group with other HIV positive people. These support groups work like a peer network and offer a safe space for people to talk, vent their frustrations and ask for advice with people who are in the same or similar life situations. Support groups are a great resource for people with chronic health conditions, as oftentimes families may not understand as well as people going through the same condition.

Some other ways to improve your mental health at home are:

  1. Exercise:

When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins which then chemically improves your mood. Thus, regular exercise can be a game-changer to help your mental health.

  1. Meditation:

A lot of studies have shown that meditation and mindfulness help ease our anxiety, stress and depression. 

Living with a chronic illness can be very taxing on a person. If you are someone with HIV/AIDS, or know someone with HIV/AIDS, please reach out to your support groups and medical professionals to receive the best possible care. 

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