What is mental health?
Mental health refers to a person's overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health affects how people think, feel, and act. Good mental health helps people make healthy choices, reach personal goals, and cope with stress.
Poor mental health is not the same as mental illness. Mental illnesses include many different conditions, such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia.
What are HIV and AIDS?
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system by destroying CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, a type of white blood cell that is vital to fighting off infection. A person infected with HIV is diagnosed with AIDS when he or she has one or more opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, and has a dangerously low number of CD4+ T cells.
Are people with HIV at risk for mental health conditions?
Almost every person faces mental health challenges at some point. Having a serious illness, like HIV, can be a source of major stress and depression. If you are living with HIV, it is important for you to be aware that you have an increased risk for developing mood, anxiety, and cognitive disorders.
One of the most common mental health conditions that people living with HIV face is depression. Depression can range from mild to severe, and the symptoms of depression can affect your day-to-day life.
Feeling sad or anxious often or all the time
Feeling irritable‚ easily frustrated‚ or restless
Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
Eating more or less than usual or having no appetite
Thinking about suicide or hurting yourself
Experiencing aches, pains, or stomach problems that do not improve with treatment
Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
How Does HIV/AIDS Increase the Risk of Mental Health Conditions?
The HIV virus increases risk of mental health conditions because it causes major inflammation within the body. The entire brain, including the lining, becomes inflamed as a result of the body’s attempt to fight off the virus. This causes irritation and swelling of brain tissue resulting in non-traumatic brain damage over the long term.
Because HIV affects the immune system, you have an increased chance of getting other infections, such as Pneumonia and Tuberculosis, which also affect your brain and nervous system. This can then lead to changes in behavior and functioning.
How can you feel better?
Get professional help
Some people who experience mental health problems have trouble taking their HIV treatment correctly and may miss doses, skip appointments or not eat a healthy, balanced diet. Healthcare professional may suggest medication, including antidepressant drugs or talking therapies.
Exercise and stay healthy
Getting enough exercise and nutrition is important for a healthy mind, particularly for anyone who is living with HIV. Changing to a healthier lifestyle can improve how you feel physically and emotionally.
Seek answers for your questions
Many of your worries may relate to serious concerns about your own health, for example, you may be nervous about your CD4 count or your long-term health. Getting advice and information can help you understand the full facts, what to expect and how to deal with it.