Since Gerry has been on leave of absence, I have been taking a number of peer counseling calls. It feels like a number of our callers are having problems getting help with their mental health medicines as well as finding places to go for help. There seems to be a barrier for HIV-positive folks as well as HIV-affected folks. I have had callers tell me that they dont even want to call a mental health provider because they are ashamed. They are ashamed of the stigma that society places on mental health. They are ashamed of living with HIV. They are ashamed of the double stigma. Sometimes our society seems to do better with an illness that they can "see." You cant see mental health, so it comes across as something frightening because it is unknown and untouchable.
I know that when I decided to go to a therapist in 1994, it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I had known since high school that I was depressed (dysthymia to be exact), but was too ashamed to do anything about it. I was going to be a social worker. I was supposed to be stable so that I could take care of other people. How could I possibly be eligible to provide social services when I may be experiencing problems myself?
You see, I was buying into the stigma. I will tell you that going to a therapist and starting on anti-depressants was the best thing that I ever did for myself. I remember telling someone that "this is what it must be like to feel normal." (OK, I think I just came "out.") I have been on medication since 1994 and feel better than ever. It is sad to me that people are still so ashamed of making that first call and continue to live unhappy lives. There is help out there and people do not have to be miserable. As a matter of fact, I found the majority of the information and resources for this article by searching the internet.
Before I get started talking about "mental health," I would like to start with a definition of mental illness. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill defines it as "a disorder of the brain that disrupts a persons thinking, feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are brain disorders that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Mental illness is not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. These brain disorders are treatable."
In a recent survey regarding the causes of mental illness:
This is very sad information and, most importantly, it is all completely untrue. I am going to focus the rest of the article on depression because many of my peers with HIV have commented that this is a universal feeling that just about everyone has experienced at one time or another.
In the Spring of 1999, Dr. Trisdale reported that clinical depression can be mistaken for advancing HIV disease, over half of all people with HIV are likely to end up with clinical depression, women (HIV+ or HIV-) are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men, and that clinical depression is one of the leading causes of non-adherence to HIV medications.
So, what is depression? Depression is not something that lasts a day or two. It is a feeling that can last for months or even years. It affects changes in your body chemistry and your brain. It can change your outlook on life. Some of the symptoms can be: fatigue; no energy or motivation; loss of interest in sex; insomnia; no appetite; loss of interest or pleasure in activities; irritability; social withdrawal; frequent crying; loss of concentration or memory problems; a persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood; sleeping too little or sleeping too much; feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless; or thoughts of death or suicide. Also, there are different types of depression -- make sure that you find out what type you have so you can be treated appropriately.
People with depression typically have too little or too much of certain brain chemicals, called "neurotransmitters." These brain chemicals may cause, or contribute to, clinical depression.
Clinical depression is more likely to occur with certain illnesses, such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, Parkinsons , diabetes, HIV. This is referred to as "co-occurring depression."
Some medications can actually cause clinical depression. It is important to tell your doctor about all of the medicine you are taking. It would be helpful to have a conversation with your doctor if you suspect that any of your medications are causing depression so a plan can be put in to place to resolve the depressive symptoms.
People with negative thinking patterns (low self-esteem, worrying too much or feeling they have little control over life events) are more likely to develop clinical depression. Difficult life events -- divorce, financial problems, moving to a new place, the death of a loved one, or a loss -- may trigger an episode of clinical depression.
Tips for starting on anti-depressants when you are living with HIV:
You can enjoy life! With recognition and treatment, depression can be overcome. Remember, National Depression Screening Day is October 5th.
AIDS Survival Project
Peer counseling, information and referral.
Individual counseling, support groups, and play therapy for children.
National Mental Health Association of Georgia
Advocacy, education and training, research direct services.
Information, referral, support groups.
Mental Health Insurance Hotline
If your benefits, insurance, or managed care plan is presenting obstacles to needed mental health services call the hotline!
National Mental Health Information Center
Information on mental illnesses and treatment, and referrals for local treatment centers.
TTY Line: 800-433-5959
National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association
National Foundation for Depressive Illness
Depression, Awareness, Recognition, and Treatment (DART)
American Psychiatric Association
NIMH, Clinical Trials
Grief Recovery Institute
Patient Assistance Programs (Doctors only)
List of companies who offer free medicine
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association
Some pharmaceutical companies offer free medications to low-income families. They require a doctors consent and proof of financial status. Depending on what your insurance covers, you may be able to apply. Some companies may prefer to speak directly with your doctor. Here is a list of medications with corresponding companies that feature patient assistance programs and their contact numbers.
|BuSpar||Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.||800-736-0003|
|Compazine||Smith Kline Beecham Phar.||800-546-0420|
|Norpramin||Hoechst Marion Roussel||800-221-4025|
|Paxil||Smith Kline Beecham||800-546-0420|
|Prozac||Eli Lilly and Co.||800-545-6962|
|Serentil||Boehringer I. Pharm.||800-556-8317|
|Serzone||Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.||800-736-0003|
|Zyprexa||Eli Lilly & Co.||800-545-6962|