It’s a unique set of circumstances, but you are not alone.
Developing feelings of depression after being diagnosed with HIV is natural. Your diagnosis involves getting used to antiretroviral treatment, which is a daily treatment that you’ll need to take for life. Having HIV also means disclosing your illness to your friends, family, and partners, and potentially dealing with social and financial fallout.
Though getting an HIV diagnosis doesn’t have to be life-ending, it will certainly be life-changing. It may be a heavy burden to bear, but you don’t have to go through it on your own.
Depression Symptoms Those with HIV Should Look Out For
Depression is common among people with HIV because managing chronic conditions can be stressful. Sometimes, depression could stem from dwelling on past mistakes and regrets. In other cases, it could come from feeling hopeless about one’s future. The stigma against HIV could worsen these feelings of despair, shame, or hopelessness.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness or negativity
- Feeling “empty” or helpless
- Loss of appetite and patience
- Withdrawal or disengagement from life and activities you used to enjoy
- Competing feelings of loneliness and inclination to self-isolate
Sometimes, depression presents as other symptoms common to other conditions, like aches and pains that seem to come out of nowhere. It’s important to stay in tune with your body and notice these changes.
Finding Support for Mental Health
It’s important to get help for depression because it can worsen and have a significant impact on your quality of life. Left untreated, it can increase the risk of substance use disorders and suicidal ideation.
It’s worth it to look for a mental health professional with experience in HIV concerns. You deserve to find someone you feel comfortable with so that you can speak freely, be open about important information, and avoid feeling judged or discriminated against for past actions. You shouldn’t have to educate them about what HIV is or how it affects you.
Treatment isn't only for when those feelings of depression spiral. In fact, HIV-specialized mental health professionals can help give you preventative treatment so that you don’t have to add mental illness to the equation.
Other Ways to Get the Help You Need
Many find it helpful to meet with an HIV support group. Meeting other people who are going through the same situation as you can be validating and comforting. Both those who are newly diagnosed with you and those who are living, and thriving, with HIV can help you accept your new reality. They may also be able to let you in on their methods to deal with the day-to-day challenges.
If you or someone you love has severe depression or thoughts of suicide, you should call 911, go to the emergency room or your healthcare provider, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Get the help you deserve—and don’t wait.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.