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Mental Health Issues With HIV/AIDS

September 2002

When individuals are faced with HIV/AIDS, their physical health is not the only issue at hand. Along with the physical illness associated with the virus are mental health conditions. Common psychological disorders associated with HIV/AIDS are depression, anxiety, and sometimes dementia (AIDS Dementia Complex or ADC). There are many reasons for such conditions including societal stigma, grief (such as the loss of loved ones), ongoing struggles with illnesses, diminished quality of life, and medications (either direct side effects or the constant act of having to take medication).

Depression is the most common mental disorder found among HIV-infected individuals. Symptoms of depression generally include low self-esteem, anxiety, forgetfulness, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, decreased libido, and a sense of hopelessness. An evaluation by a therapist should be sought if these symptoms persist every day for 2 weeks or interfere with personal care, work, or social life. The symptoms of anxiety include a sense of numbness, emotional detachment, or a dazed state. Different types of anxiety disorders include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias (fears of specific places, things, or situations). AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC) or HIV-associated dementia is common among people with advanced HIV disease (usually very low T-cell counts). People with ADC have problems thinking clearly. Symptoms of dementia may include lack of concentration, loss of memory, social withdrawal, sluggish thinking, short attention span, lethargy, poor coordination, impaired judgment, vision problems, and altered personality. Treatments for depression, anxiety, and dementia include medications and professional counseling. One may be used without the other, but these methods are more effective when used together. Unless severe, symptoms like grief and low self-esteem may be treated with only professional counseling.

Professional counseling may involve individual support, interpersonal interaction, group support, and cognitive-behavioral treatment. Commonly used medications are antidepressants, stimulants, and anxiolytics. Patients should always consult with their physicians before taking any additional medications -- even if prescribed by a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers all provide different forms of treatment for mental disorders. Treatment for these disorders may be costly, but some financial support is available through funding from sources like the Ryan White CARE Act. Those affected by HIV/AIDS may be eligible for free or reduced-fee services by agencies that receive such funding for mental health services. There are many different places to seek assistance. Below are a few centers that provide free or sliding-scale services.

Some Houston-area counseling resources for people with HIV:

All Walks of Life
9106 Benthos
Houston, TX 77083
Free; men and women
Location: Southwest Houston

Amigos Volunteers in Education and Services (AVES)
4126 Southwest Freeway, Suite 1310
Houston, TX 77027
Free; men, women, youth (13-19), children
Location: Houston Inner Loop

Bering Omega Community Services
1427 Hawthorne
Houston, TX 77006
Free; men and women
Location: Houston Inner Loop

Eleos Center, Inc.
9898 Bissonnet, Suite 430E
Houston, TX 77036
Free; men, women, and youth (13-19)
Location: Southwest Houston

Family Service Center
4625 Lillian Street
Houston, TX 77007
Free or sliding scale used to determine fees; men, women, and children
Location: Houston and surrounding areas

Mental Health Association of Greater Houston
2211 Norfolk, Suite 810
Houston, TX 77098
Free; men and women
Location: Houston Inner Loop

Montrose Counseling Center
701 Richmond
Houston, TX 77006
Free or sliding scale used to determine fees; men, women, and youth (13-19)*
Location: Houston Inner Loop
* Services provided primarily for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals and their significant others

New Hope Counseling Center
6420 Hillcroft, Suite 408
Houston, TX 77081
Free; Men, women, and youth (13-19)
Location: Southwest Houston

WAM Foundation, Inc.
12401½ South Post Oak Road, #121
Houston, TX 77045
Free; men and women
Location: Southwest Houston

Nora Frankian is a summer intern with The Center for AIDS and a student at the University of Houston.

Back to the HIV Treatment ALERTS! September 2002 contents page.

This article was provided by The Center for AIDS Information & Advocacy. It is a part of the publication HIV Treatment ALERTS!. Visit CFA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
Depression and HIV
Feeling Good Again: Mental Healthcare Works!
More on Depression and HIV/AIDS