Mental Health Issues With HIV/AIDS
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
Amigos Volunteers in Education and Services (AVES)
Bering Omega Community Services
Eleos Center, Inc.
Family Service Center
Mental Health Association of Greater Houston
Montrose Counseling Center
New Hope Counseling Center
WAM Foundation, Inc.
Nora Frankian is a summer intern with The Center for AIDS and a student at the University of Houston.
This article was provided by The Center for AIDS. It is a part of the publication HIV Treatment ALERTS!. Visit CFA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.