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HIV a negative side-effect of mental illness

Oct 27, 2005

I've been treated for depression since 1993, the age of 16. Years later, after struggling with a progressive diagnosis to Bipolar and PTSD, I contracted HIV the spring of 2005. Many people wonder how I am dealing emotionally with the HIV infection. I have a great medical team; my CD4 is 1149 and VL is 81,000. There is such a perception of HIV leading to deep depression. In my situation, HIV was the kick in the pants that perhaps helped me gain the support and assistance of local support agencies. How can I manage the aggravation over the struggles I had before contracting HIV to be accepted as having a mental illness needing social support (such as employment and social relationships)? How do I find support that will focus on my history of mental illness rather than my HIV diagnosis? I have a great social worker who's guiding me to the local and county agencies I need to work with, but they are hesitant and cumbersome to work with.

Response from Dr. Horwath

You made an excellent point that people often have the perception that HIV inevitably leads to deep depression. I have been very impressed with the resiliency and hopefulness of my own patients, even when they are quite seriously ill.

The other interesting observation you made is that you don't want to be defined strictly as someone with HIV infection. There is more to you than just HIV. And in your case, you have a continuing struggle to gain control over your psychiatic problems, which preceded the HIV infection.

I can only recommend that you try to find excellent medical and mental health care from professionals who are willing to spend the time to get to know you, rather than pigeon-hole you in the category of HIV patient.

How do we help (and cope)?
I feel alone

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