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Dual Stigma

By Jeff Berry

May/June 2010

[Note from TheBody.com: This article originally appeared as an editor's note in the May/June 2010 issue of Positively Aware. You can browse other articles in the issue by clicking the links in the "See Also" box on this page, or by visiting our index of articles from Test Positive Aware Network.]

Depression is a big deal, especially when you're facing HIV or any other number of serious health conditions. For many health care providers the old school of thought was to tell you to more or less "get over it," and "buck up." You have a life-threatening illness which demands the bulk of your attention, so of course you're going to feel a little "depressed," but basically, "it's all in your head."

But being a little depressed and clinical depression are two very different things. Depression can often be overlooked by health care professionals, as many have not been trained to look for the signs of depression, let alone treat it.

This issue attempts to take on the subject of not only depression, but overall mental health in those living with HIV. Rates of depression can reach as high as 60% for people with HIV. It can be quite debilitating and, left untreated, very likely to affect your overall health and well-being. It has even been linked to a greater risk of death.

Of course this issue by itself cannot address all of the many aspects of mental health and HIV, so finding a good provider, having strong support systems in place, and knowing where to go for help, is key.

Depression can cause some people to miss doses of their antiretroviral (ARV) medications, as well as lead to higher-risk behaviors. Some ARVs can even cause or exacerbate depression, or interact with drugs used to treat depression, and people with hepatitis B or C are more apt to be depressed, especially if they're on interferon treatment.

It's all kind of depressing, isn't it? Ironically, that is one of the things I kept hearing over and over again from some of my co-workers when we were putting together this issue. But, and perhaps because I'm the relentless Pollyanna in the office, I choose to look at it a little differently. And I know I'm not the only one who feels that way (there she goes again!).

Depression can be treated with medication, complementary therapies, and making some changes in your lifestyle. Regular exercise is critical, not only to help maintain your physical health, but also your emotional and mental well-being. Managing stress, eating well, getting the proper amount of rest, and even exposure to sunlight are all important to achieving success and finding balance in your life. Reducing or eliminating alcohol and substance use can also help, especially if you're using them to self-medicate, as abusing them will only worsen the problem.

Finally, recognizing and admitting that you, or someone you know, may need help, and seeking adequate counseling or treatment, without the fear, shame, or stigma that is often associated with depression or other mental health disorders, is crucial. We already deal enough with the stigma of HIV, we shouldn't also have to cope with the dual stigma of HIV and depression.

In this issue you may note a few changes on the cover and within the pages of the magazine. This is a reflection of the continuing evolution of Positively Aware. The graphic design, imagery, font selection, logo, and departments have all been updated and given a fresh, new look. We trust you'll like the changes you see. Look for more changes in the coming months, both in print and online at www.positivelyaware.com. Visit our website to sign up for our weekly e-mail updates, and join the PA forum where you can read blogs, comment on articles, and chat with members and make new friends. And don't forget to look for us on facebook!

As always, we welcome comments from you, our readers, on what you would like to see more of and hear more about in PA, so drop us a line at publications@tpan.com and let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you.

Until then, take care of yourself, and each other.




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