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Future Health

HIV/AIDS and Mental Health

May 9, 2022 

There are approximately 38 million people living in the world with HIV or AIDS. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that can be transmitted from one person to another via sexual intercourse, sharing syringes, perinatally during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. HIV is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  AIDS weakens the immune system by destroying the white blood cells that are important to fight off infections (CD4+ T cells). Thus, it makes the immune system more vulnerable to diseases and infections. HIV may be diagnosed with AIDS when they have one or more opportunistic infections, like pneumonia.


Those with HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk for mental disorders. They may develop a mood, anxiety, or cognitive disorders. The most common is depression. Every disorder is treatable. There are some contributing factors to mental health issues for those who have HIV/AIDS including:

            ~ Difficulty getting mental health services

            ~ Experiences loss of support, creating isolation

            ~ Experiences loss of employment or worries unable to work well

            ~ Telling loved ones of their condition (worried they will no longer be accepted)

            ~ Managing treatment

            ~ Dealing with loss

            ~ Facing stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS


HIV/AIDS can also affect the brain and nervous system. It can change how you think and behave. To help manage this, the medications that are prescribed for people have side effects that can affect your mental health. Besides mental effects, HIV also causes the body to become significantly inflamed. This then causes a neurological complication by damaging the spinal cord and brain (which together makes up the central nervous system).


Once diagnosed, it is important for those who have HIV to start treatment as soon as possible. They will be prescribed a combination of medications including antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART with a treatment plan helps control and suppress the virus. Though it is used to help manage the virus, ART may affect your mental health. Speak with your primary care doctor and create a treatment plan where you are constantly in contact and remember to stay open and honest with everything that is going on regarding your diagnosis.