Women and HIV/AIDS: Emotional Health
March 4, 2009
It is a normal reaction to feel down, or even devastated, after being diagnosed with HIV or during the course of the disease. A support network can help you cope with tough times. But when feelings become severe and limit the energy you need to stay focused on being healthy, you should talk with your doctor. People living with HIV are more likely to have depression, as well as other mental illnesses. HIV and its treatment also can affect brain function, including thinking, mood, and behavior. Many of these problems can be helped with treatment.
HIV does not directly cause depression. But depression is twice as common in people with HIV as in the general public. Depression is a separate medical condition that needs to be treated. Research shows that depression can speed up HIV's progression to AIDS.
Symptoms of depression include:
Diagnosing depression can be hard in someone with HIV. Some HIV symptoms and side effects of HIV drugs are the same as those of depression. These include fatigue, low sex drive, little appetite, confusion, nightmares, nervousness, and weight loss. But a true loss of interest in activities that someone used to enjoy is a sign that a person is depressed.
Treatment, such as talk therapy and antidepressants, usually can help people with depression. Antidepressants are usually safe for people with HIV. But there may be interactions with other drugs, so it's important that you and your doctor watch for side effects. Do not use St. John's wort, a drug that some people use to treat mild symptoms of depression. It has harmful interactions with HIV medicines. Visit our section on mental health for more information.
HIV, as well as some of the medicines used to treat HIV, can affect brain function. Memory problems, confusion, slowed thinking, problems talking, changes in mood and behavior and other problems can greatly affect quality of life, and complicate HIV treatment. Some of these problems can be improved or reversed with treatment. Counseling can also help people learn to cope with changes in brain function. Talk to your doctor if you or someone you care for begins to show signs of decreased mental function.
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This article was provided by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.