Depression, Women and HIV
Table of Contents
Studies have shown that, in the general population, women are two times more likely to be depressed than men. While it is not clear why women suffer from depression so much more than men, there are several possible reasons. One reason used to explain the high rate of depression among women is the burden many women bear as the primary caregiver for family members. Often, women will care for others and not care properly for themselves. Other reasons that women may feel depressed include having a lower household income, less education, less social support, and a greater chance of being physically and/or sexually abused.
Women living with HIV (HIV+) are even more likely to suffer from depression than women in the general population. Although many HIV+ people live long, healthy, and full lives, learning that you are HIV+ is life-changing news that can be very difficult to hear and accept. Some people feel overwhelmed, helpless, or unable to cope with an HIV diagnosis. Others are afraid for their future health, or of disclosing their HIV status to friends and family. The stigma that many HIV+ women experience may lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness. All of these feelings -- helplessness, anxiety, loneliness -- are key elements of depression.
Many HIV+ women also experience large life stressors such as racial discrimination, poverty, violence, and single parenthood, which can lead to depression. An HIV diagnosis can simply add to this burden and to the chances of developing depression.
As HIV treatments have improved, there are more and more older women living with HIV. Growing older often involves its own life challenges, such as chronic disease, disability, or the loss of loved ones. These life changes can lead to feelings of sadness or depression. One study showed that more than six in ten HIV+ women from 50 to 76 years old suffered from depression.
Studies show that there is a direct connection between depression and reduced health for those living with HIV. Specifically, HIV+ women who are depressed seek HIV care less often, have more trouble sticking with their HIV drug regimens, and have more rapid disease progression. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you may miss doses, take the wrong dose, or take the dose at the wrong time. Not taking your HIV drugs regularly can lead to the development of resistance, which makes HIV drugs less effective at fighting the virus. This can cause your CD4 cells to go down and/or your viral load to go up.
Even among HIV+ women with similar CD4 counts and viral loads, being depressed can double the likelihood of dying compared to having few or no symptoms of depression. For those women who made contact with a mental health provider, the risk of death was cut in half. It is important that depression be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible to avoid serious problems.
This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with TheBody.com to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from TheBody.com or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
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