A study by psychologists emphasized the high depression rate among individuals living with HIV. According to them, 60 out of every 100 patients have clinical depression. Yes, sadness and grief are normal emotions whenever people find out that they have HIV. However, morphing this into a full-blown clinical depression is a serious story. It has turned into an epidemic that’s rapidly growing across genders and races. The illness affects the quality of life of the afflicted, and their whole world crashes and burns.
Causes Of Clinical Depression In HIV Patients
There are various reasons why patients experience clinical depression. Contrary to popular belief, HIV infection does not necessarily translate to depression mainly because there are several “crisis points,” which a person with HIV can enter.
Some of these crisis points start with the initial HIV testing and diagnosis. Even if patients have not confirmed yet whether they are positive or not, they get paranoid and anxious. Some also do not pursue their testing because of the emotional crisis they are experiencing. Once these people know that they are HIV-infected, it adds to the burden they are carrying.
“It is important for practitioners treating HIV-infected individuals to be aware of the high likelihood of co-morbid mental health conditions, have a basic understanding of the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions, and be prepared to partner with mental health professionals in the treatment of affected individuals,” writes David J. Moore, PhD, and Carolina Posada, BA.
Another common crisis point is when these people are deciding whether to share this sensitive information to their family and friends. Keeping this information is another stress trigger for them. They feel that disclosing that they are HIV-positive will not only lead to disgust and judgment from other people but will also be a reason for their loved ones to abandon them.
“Rejected LGB youth were 8.4 times more likely to have tried to commit suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to have risky sex,” writes Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS.
Other patients also feel more unstable whenever it is time for them to return to their regular lives. After finding out this big news, it is harder for them to make their way back to their routine – waking up in the morning, having breakfast, driving to work, having lunch with workmates, and driving by the road late at night. They feel more stressed out, knowing that it will never be the same for them after finding out their disorder.
“These studies showed that people with HIV preferred to hide their HIV identity as they thought that it impeded their progress towards returning to a ‘normal’ life,” Esther C. L. Goh, PhD, finds.
Lastly, they get pressured whenever they are in the medical setting. Some crisis points in this environment include the introduction of new medication, presence of physical illness, recognition of depression symptoms, and hospitalization. The higher the exposure to these kinds of things, the higher the chance that they spiral into depression.
If you have been tested positive of HIV, make sure to go for medical visits regularly. Doing this is the best way to control the infection. Outside these physical examinations and treatments, you should also ask your doctor to conduct a mental health assessment. Make sure to choose a clinician who is comfortable with you as sometimes they hold back information so that they will not insult a patient.
Your doctors are not the only ones responsible for tracking your symptoms. You should also know the signs which can translate to depression.
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling of self-guilt
- Unable to sleep well
- Problems in sustaining attention and concentration
- Loss of pleasure and interest
- Substance abuse
- Disturbance in psychomotor
- Pessimistic attitude
- Challenging behavior in the medical setting
- Persistent agitation
- Constant changes in fatigue and energy level
- Lower sex drive
- Feeling sluggish all day
- Inability to make decisions related to HIV infection treatments
Higher Death Risk
According to experts, HIV is not the only reason why these people die. Clinical depression also has a significant role in why there is a higher death risk among them. A study by the HIV Medicine tested the link between HIV, clinical depression, and mortality.
“Our findings reinforce the need to assess and treat depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder in patients with and without HIV infection to potentially reduce mortality risk,” shares co-author Kaku So-Armah, Ph.D., a Medicine assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
The data came from the study of 129,140 veterans in 13 years – from 2003 to 2015. According to the survey, among these veterans, 30 percent of them were affected by HIV. Out of these 30 percent, more than half receive a diagnosis of depression. From here, the researchers found out that there is a 23 percent increased risk of death for those who are HIV-positive as associated with their depressive symptoms.
There are several ways to treat depression, even if you have HIV. For one, you have to attend your medical checkups. Make sure not to stop taking both your depression and HIV medications unless your doctors tell you too. There are also different types of therapies you can go to, such as traditional counseling, stress management, acupuncture, and massage. For instance, you can try to undergo online counseling through apps such as BetterHelp. Through online counseling, you will be able to confide and ease the burden in your mind with the help of a licensed professional.