|Coping with HIV/AIDS: Mental Health|
If you are diagnosed with HIV, your physical health is not the only issue you have to deal with. Along with the physical illness are mental health conditions that may come up, such as depression and anxiety. Mental health refers to the overall well-being of a person, including a person's mood, emotions, and behavior.
Many people are surprised when they learn that they have been infected with HIV. Some people feel overwhelmed by the changes that they will need to make in their lives. It is normal to have strong reactions when you find out you are HIV positive, including feelings such as fear, anger, and a sense of being overwhelmed. Often people feel helpless, sad, and anxious about the illness.
There are many things you can do to deal with the emotional aspects of having HIV. What follows are some of the most common feelings associated with a diagnosis of HIV and suggestions on how to cope with these feelings. You may experience some, all, or none of these feelings, and you may experience them at different times.
People who find out that they are HIV positive often deal with the news by denying that it is true. You may believe that the HIV test was not accurate or that there was a mix-up with the result, even after confirmatory testing shows that it is a true positive. This is a natural and normal first reaction.
At first, this denial may even be helpful, because it can give you time to get used to the idea of infection. However, if not dealt with, denial can be dangerous; you may fail to take certain precautions or reach out for the necessary help and medical support.
It is important that you talk out your feelings with your doctor, a therapist, or someone you trust. It is important to do this so that you can begin to receive the care and support you need.
| Sadness or depression|
It is also normal to feel sad when you learn you have HIV. If, over time, you find that the sadness doesn't go away or is getting worse, talk with your doctor or someone else you trust. You may be depressed.
Symptoms of depression can include the following, especially if they last for more than 2 weeks:
|Feeling sad, anxious, irritable, or hopeless|
|Sleeping more or less than usual|
|Moving slower than usual or finding it hard to sit still|
|Losing interest in the things you usually enjoy|
|Feeling tired all the time|
|Feeling worthless or guilty|
|Having a hard time concentrating|
|Thinking about death or giving up|
|Persistent loss of libido or interest in sex|
To deal with these symptoms, you may want to:
|Talk with your doctor about treatments for depression, such as therapy or medicines|
|Get involved with a support group|
|Spend time with supportive people, such as family members and friends|
If your mood swings or depression get very severe, or if you ever think about suicide, call your doctor right away. Your doctor can help you.
Finding the right treatment for depression takes time; so does recovery. If you think you may be depressed, don't lose hope. Instead, talk to your health care provider and seek help for depression.
If you are HIV infected, you and your loved ones constantly have to deal with stress. Stress is unique and personal to each of us. When stress does occur, it is important to recognize the fact and deal with it. Some ways to handle stress are discussed below. As you gain more understanding about how stress affects you, you will come up with your own ideas for coping with stress.
|Try physical activity. When you are nervous, angry, or upset, try exercise or some other kind of physical activity. Walking, yoga, and gardening are just some of the activities you might try to release your tension. |
|Take care of yourself. Be sure you get enough rest and eat well. If you are irritable from lack of sleep or if you are not eating right, you will have less energy to deal with stressful situations. If stress keeps you from sleeping, you should ask your doctor for help. |
|Talk about it. It helps to talk to someone about your concerns and worries. You can talk to a friend, family member, counselor, or health care provider. |
|Let it out. A good cry can bring relief to your anxiety, and it might even prevent a headache or other physical problem. Taking some deep breaths also releases tension.|
| Coping tips|
It is completely normal to have an emotional reaction upon learning that you are infected with HIV, such as anxiety, anger, or depression. These feelings do not last forever. As noted above, there are many things that you can do to help take care of your emotional needs. Here are just a few ideas:
|Talk about your feelings with your doctor, friends, family members, or other supportive people.|
|Try to find activities that relieve your stress, such as exercise or hobbies.|
|Try to get enough sleep each night to help you feel rested.|
|Learn relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.|
|Limit the amount of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and recreational drugs you use.|
|Eat small, healthy meals throughout the day.|
There are many kinds of support groups that provide a place where you can talk about your feelings, help others, and get the latest information about HIV/AIDS. Check with your health care provider for a listing of local support groups.
More specific ways to care for your emotional well-being include various forms of therapy and medication. Used alone or in combination, these may be helpful in dealing with the feelings you are experiencing. Therapy can help you better express your feelings and find ways to cope with your emotions. Medicines that may be able to help with anxiety and depression are also available.
You should always talk with your doctor about your options. There are many ways to care for your emotional health, but treatments must be carefully chosen by your physician based on your specific circumstances and needs.
The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone; there are support systems in place to help you, including doctors, psychiatrists, family members, friends, support groups, and other services.