HIV and Mental Health - How It Affects and How to Cope!

Written by: Meenakshi Joshi – M Sc

Last updated date : March 29, 2022

Table of Contents

HIV and Mental Health – How It Affects and How to Cope!

  1. How Does HIV Affect Mental Health?
  2. Ways HIV Can Affect Mental Health?
  3. Coping with HIV

When you are not feeling well or when you are sick, you feel low. You do not want to do anything or talk to anyone. You do not wish to be with others. Thus, an illness can affect mental health. HIV can disrupt your life. It affects every part of your life. HIV greatly affects your mental health and might cause depression as you need to learn to live with it.

Chapter 1:
How Does HIV Affect Mental Health?

HIV is something that cannot be cured. You need to accept that this condition is going to be a part of your life. When a person comes to know that he/she has HIV, it can be a very tough time for them. To take in and accept the truth is not easy.

Initial reaction –

It is not easy to hear bad news. Especially if it is going to affect the rest of your life. HIV has a lot of negative emotions linked to it. There is a high chance that when a person has HIV, he might also have depression.

  • The first reaction when people come to know that they have HIV is disbelief. They refuse that accept that this has happened. They feel that the reports are wrong or they are some mistakes made in the diagnosis.
  • Some people who already have poor mental health can get super affected when they get HIV. They might become aggressive or go in shock. It is not something that people can understand or accept easily.
  • Later, once you start realising that you have HIV is the truth, then you might go into depression. You might feel helpless and powerless. Also, you feel that “your life is over”.
  • Some people might blame themselves or others for their condition. They might get angry with God or the world.
How people react –

HIV has a lot of negative emotions and social stigma linked to it. When people come to know that someone has HIV, they tend to blame and shame that person. No matter how a person gets HIV, people always think it is their fault.

Also, most people have many wrong notions about HIV. They do not know correctly how is it transmitted. It is because there is a huge lack of awareness about HIV. Compared to other illnesses, HIV is the one that people feel ashamed to talk about, have half or wrong information about, and tend to be very judgmental about it.

For a person with HIV, their mental health can deteriorate more because of the insensitive and hurtful things people around them say. They do not show any empathy for the person suffering from HIV. Rather, they pass negative comments and insult the person. Others might even avoid the person.

Such reactions from people can be very difficult to digest for the person. He/she might get depression because of the way people treat them. The rude and insensitive treatment they receive from others can push them further down the path of a nervous breakdown and social isolation.


Chapter 2:
Ways HIV Can Affect Mental Health?

HIV can affect a person in several ways.
  1. Self-confidence is affected. A person with HIV starts to become negative about life. They might feel that there is no point in living anymore and that their life is a waste. Additionally, the negative reactions of people and their hopelessness can shatter their self-confidence.
  2. Their motivation to do anything might be very low. The person might not want to do their routine activities. Interest in work or professional life might go down.
  3. A person’s social life starts to fade out. Many people want to be alone. Maybe they are tired of the judging eyes of the people they meet when they go out. They might not want to talk about or answer any questions about their condition. So, they start avoiding going out.
  4. Family members might also not accept the person or might blame them. There could be no support from friends and family to fight the disease which can create more damage to their mental health and cause depression for the person with HIV.

Chapter 3:
Coping with HIV

Coping with HIV requires time and effort over a long period. There is no easy fix or fast trick that can help you cope. With medicines and precautions, you can take care of your body. However, you need to work on your mind as well. You need to take care of your mental health in HIV.

  • Acceptance – Because of all the blame, shame, and guilt that HIV brings with it, you must learn to get over it. You need to accept that you have HIV. No matter how you got HIV, through sexual relations with an HIV +ve person, blood transfusion, use of infected needles, or any other way, it is not your fault. You need to tell yourself repeatedly that you are not to be blamed for your condition.
  • Creating a positive self-image and rebuilding your self-confidence – You must start looking at yourself with a positive mindset again. You need to remove all the negative things that you have attached to your self-image when you first hear that you have HIV. Learning to overcome the depression that comes with HIV and working on creating good mental health is needed.
  • Therapy – You might want to get counseling and therapy from a trained professional who can help you to deal with HIV. Also, a therapist can help you accept your condition, help you deal with the guilt and shame. They can help you adjust to all the lifestyle changes that you need to make.
  • Gather the courage to tell your family and friends about HIV. You will need their help and support to adjust to such a big condition. So, you need to learn how to break the news to them and how to answer their questions.
Boosting mental health in HIV –

The best way to boost your mental health in HIV is to back to your routine life as completely and as quickly as you can. Returning to work, spending time with family and friends, doing things that you enjoy – your interests, hobbies, and following your passions can give you the needed self-confidence and comfort.

Work with NGOs and Organisations-

You will need additional support to live with HIV. Also, to balance your mental health and stay mentally fit, you will need social support when you have HIV. So, try to connect to NGOs or organisations that work for this cause.

Some groups help you connect to people who are going through the same condition as you. Talking to them, listening to how they coped with HIV can guide you foe deal with this situation bravely and effectively.

Also, you can volunteer or work at such places to spread awareness and help other people who might benefit from your experiences. The most satisfying or self-esteem boost happens when you are of use to others. When we can help others, we feel useful and valuable. You can uplift your mental health in HIV by guiding someone else to accept and cope with their condition by sharing your experiences or hand-holding them through their initial days of struggles.

This way you can be of use to others and can greatly help yourself too to cope with your mental pressures and issues.