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How a Diagnosis Can Affect Mental Health

Mental health is a serious global issue. According to a 2017 study from Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, 792 million people around the world live with a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders can affect anyone, including those who are HIV positive.

Maintaining good mental health is essential in treating HIV. Just by receiving a diagnosis, it can change one’s sense of well-being. The seriousness of the disease and negative stigma toward it are very overwhelming.

Unfortunately, those with mental health disorders are disproportionately affected by HIV. Significant correlations have been found between HIV and those with behavior health conditions, and Dr. Anita Everett shared that those with mental illness are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. So, maintaining good mental health can become a challenge.

The most common mental disorder among HIV positive individuals is depression. An estimated 40-60% of the HIV positive population will experience depression at some point in their lives. Not only can receiving the diagnosis contribute to depression, but medication used to treat HIV can contribute to it too.

Other mental health problems that HIV positive patients experience include anxiety disorders, mood disorders and personality disorders. Additionally, HIV, substance use and mental health are all interrelated. With a mental illness, an individual’s chance of getting a substance use disorder is as high as 50%. Substance users are more likely to share needles, which puts them at risk for being exposed to HIV.

33% of the kids we serve are HIV positive. This diagnosis has a tremendous impact on their mental health. Due to the negative stigma surrounding HIV, most of our kids do not know their status until they are older because parents want to avoid the child accidentally sharing his or her status with classmates and receiving negative attention.

However, when parents avoid telling their children their status, this might make them think that their diagnosis is embarrassing or shameful. It is important for them to know that their status does not need to be a secret or shameful, but that it is private. It is not something to hide, but it also does not need to be shared.

Our kids also feel a sense of urgency; they feel like they do not have as long to live and feel like they need to complete life milestones in quickly. So providing our kids with the mental health resources they need is vital in ensuring they live a successful life beyond their childhood.

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Although HIV is an auto-immune disease, it has a heavy toll on one’s mental health as well. UGA HEROs is committed to promoting good mental health practices to our members, and even more importantly, to our kids.

*If you or a loved one is experiencing any negative or potentially suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.*

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