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Depression and HIV

July 23, 2014

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Treatment for Depression

Depression can be treated with lifestyle changes, alternative therapies, and/or with medications. Many medications and therapies for depression can interfere with your HIV treatment. Your health care provider can help you select the therapy or combination of therapies most appropriate for you. Do not try to self-medicate with alcohol or recreational drugs, as these can increase depression and create additional problems.

Lifestyle changes can improve depression for some people. These include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Increased exposure to sunlight
  • Stress management
  • Counseling
  • Improved sleep habits

Alternative Therapies

Some people get good results from massage, acupuncture, or exercise. St. John's wort is claimed to treat depression. However, St. John's wort was shown to be ineffective in treating depression and it interferes with some HIV medications. Fact Sheet 729 has more about St. John's wort. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you are taking St. John's wort.

Valerian or melatonin may help improve your sleep. Supplements of vitamins B6 or B12 can help if you have low levels of these vitamins.


Some people with depression respond best to medications. Antidepressants can interact with some ARVs. They must be used under the supervision of a health care provider who is familiar with your HIV treatment. Protease inhibitors have many interactions with antidepressants.

The most common antidepressants used are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, called SSRIs. They can cause loss of sexual desire and function, lack of appetite, headache, insomnia, fatigue, upset stomach, diarrhea, and restlessness or anxiety.

The tricyclics antidepressants have more side effects than the SSRIs. They can also cause sedation, constipation, and erratic heart beat.

Some health care providers also use psychostimulants, the drugs used to treat attention deficit disorder.

A recent study showed that treatment with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) can reduce depression in some HIV patients.

The Bottom Line

Depression is a very common condition for people with HIV. Untreated depression can cause you to miss medication doses and lower your quality of life.

Depression is a "whole body" issue that can interfere with your physical health, thinking, feeling, and behavior.

The earlier you contact your health care provider, the sooner you can both plan an appropriate strategy for dealing with this very real health issue.

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This article was provided by AIDS InfoNet. Visit AIDS InfoNet's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
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