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.
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,
- Feeling “empty,”
- Loss of appetite, and
- Disinterest in engaging with others
Other mental health conditions include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders. For a good description of specific mental health conditions and their symptoms, visit mentalhealth.gov.
At times, the problems of life can take a toll on people. Some might feel trapped, hopeless, or might wonder what they have to live for. If you are having thoughts like these or are thinking about hurting or hilling yourself, know that you are not alone and that things can change. SAMHSA’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress. Get information online or call: (800) 273-TALK (8255).
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:
- Exercise: Regular exercise may help improve symptoms of depression and decrease stress. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals help improve your mood.
- Meditation: Recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease depression, anxiety, and stress.