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Mental Health

Almost every person faces mental health challenges at some point. Major stresses—like the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, or moving—can have a major impact on mental health. Having a serious illness, like HIV, can be another source of major stress. You may find that living with HIV challenges your sense of well-being or complicates existing mental health conditions. HIV, and some opportunistic infections, can also affect your nervous system and can lead to changes in your behavior.

Good mental health will help you live your life to the fullest and is essential to successfully treating HIV. To help manage your mental health, it is important to know when, how, and where to get help.

What Are Common Types Of Mental Health Conditions And Symptoms?

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. Symptoms can include:

  • Persistent sadness,
  • Anxiety,
  • Feeling “empty,”
  • Helplessness,
  • Negativity,
  • Loss of appetite, and
  • Disinterest in engaging with others.

The good news is that depression is treatable. To learn more about depression’s causes, symptoms, and treatments, consult CDC and National Institute of Mental Health resources on this topic.

For more information about mental health conditions, visit CDC’s Mental Health Basics or the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Mental Disorders.

Where Can I Find Mental Health Treatment And Support?

Because mental health conditions are common, many outlets can help you maintain good mental health. If you are having symptoms of depression or another mental health condition, talk to your health care provider, social worker, or case manager. These people can refer you to a mental health provider who can give you the care you need.

Types of mental health providers include:

  • Psychiatrists: Medically trained physicians who treat mental health problems with various therapies, like talk therapy, and by prescribing medicine.
  • Psychologists: Trained professionals who help people cope with life challenges and mental health problems with therapies, like talk therapy, but usually cannot prescribe medicines.
  • Therapists: Mental health or marriage and family counselors who help people cope with life issues and mental health problems.

You may also choose to join a support group. Support groups include:

  • Mental health support groups: An organized group of peers who meet in a safe and supportive environment to provide mental health support to members of the group.
  • HIV support groups: An organized group of peers living with HIV who meet in a safe and supportive environment to provide support to other people living with HIV.

Work with a trained mental health professional to learn about treatment options such as therapy and/or medicine. You and your provider can develop a plan that will help you regain and maintain good mental health.

Other ways to help improve mental health and well-being include:

What Resources Are Available To Help Me Find Mental Health Treatment And Support?

Many organizations have websites and telephone hotlines that can help you find treatment for mental health conditions.

  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Find Help website provides a list of organizations and contact numbers that can help you find mental health treatment and support in your local area.
  • The mental health and HIV resource provides useful information for all people living with HIV.

What Steps Should I Take Before Starting Treatment For A Mental Health Condition?

Talk to your HIV health care provider before starting any mental health treatment. If you are taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) or plan to take ART, consider the following:

  • Your HIV treatment may contribute to mental health conditions. Talk to your health care provider to better understand how your HIV treatment might affect your mental health and if anything can be done to address the side effects.
  • Some medicines for mental health conditions or mood disorders can interact with ART.

Communicate openly and honestly with your health care provider about your mental health so that he or she can help you find the support you need.