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HIV and your mental health

If you have HIV, looking after your emotional and mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. 

There are many things you can do to take care of your mental health. Talking about how you feel can be an important first step. 

If you are feeling depressed, worthless or anxious you’re not alone. Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, they are very common. And this includes feeling worried about having HIV. 

It may feel overwhelming, but you can get help and your negative feelings will pass. 

What is mental health?

Mental health relates to your thoughts and feelings. Good mental health allows you to feel good about yourself, have supportive relationships, take part in daily life and deal with ups and downs. 

What are the signs of a mental health issue?

There are many different types of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. The symptoms vary but can include: 

  • an ongoing low mood that interferes with your daily life 

  • feeling hopeless, ashamed or guilty 

  • problems sleeping 

  • restlessness and an inability to relax 

  • finding it hard to concentrate or sit still 

  • suicidal thoughts. 

If you are experiencing some of these things it does not mean you are cursed or fated to feel this way – things can get better. 

Sometimes, these symptoms can be signs of other things rather than a mental health issue. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak to a healthcare professional who will be able to help you. 

Is what I’m feeling normal?

Yes! Having HIV, whether you are newly diagnosed or have known for years, can mean facing particular stresses, challenges and anxieties.  

Everyone has times when they feel bad, what’s important is to notice how you are feeling and ask for help when you need it.

How can I help myself feel better?

Recognising your feelings is the first step, then try talking to someone.  

Here are some things you could try: 

Talk to trusted family and friends: don’t feel embarrassed or worried about upsetting them. They’ll want to know what’s wrong so that they can help.  

Join a support group or talk to a peer: this could be a local HIV support group or an online forum. You could also call a helpline or meet with someone one-to-one.  

Get professional help: a health professional will be able to recognise what’s wrong. They might suggest treatment, such as medication or counselling.  

Stay healthy: Exercise, eat well, try to sleep well and avoid drinking too much alcohol or taking too many recreational drugs. 

Get answers to your questions: this can help you understand what to expect and how to deal with it.  

Try to enjoy life! Don’t be too hard on yourself. And don’t let HIV stop you, there’s no reason why it should. 

Should I mention any mental health issues during my HIV appointments?

Yes! Some HIV drugs have side effects, including sleeplessness, vivid dreams, anxiety and depression. If you have mental health issues, or have had some in the past, your doctor may suggest switching your antiretroviral treatment. 

Let's talk about your mental health!

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.
 

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How can you help someone who is struggling with poor mental health?

Poor mental health affects people in different ways. Different people will appreciate different types of support. 

It might be hard for someone who is struggling to even recognise this, or to talk about it. Try asking them how they are or mentioning that you think they may be experiencing difficulties. Let them know that you're there if they want to talk, but don't pressure them if they're not ready. Be aware that what they tell you may be information that they don't want you to share with anyone else. 

Try not to make assumptions about how they're feeling, and avoid saying things that might suggest that you think the problem is easy to deal with. Being encouraged to act like everything is normal can make people feel guilty for feeling the way they do. It's important to realise that mental health problems are real and that living with them can be hard work. Listen to how they feel without judgement. 

Try asking them what sort of support they would like. Different people will want different things. Some people might want to talk. Others might prefer practical support, such as help with childcare or medical appointments.  

Being calm and trying to keep things normal can help. Being able to talk about things other than mental health is also important. 

Remember that you can't do everything. Supporting someone else can be hard work. Look after yourself and take breaks if you need. If a situation becomes very difficult, look into getting extra support in a way the person you are supporting is comfortable with. 

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