Coping with Depression and Anxiety

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2019

Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are common across the world and can occur at any time. Sometimes, they may arise after a significant life event while other times, they may have no apparent trigger. Coping with issues like depression and anxiety in positive ways is critical in maintaining overall health and wellbeing. HIV and other chronic conditions can often be accompanied by depression and anxiety.

Depression, anxiety, and HIV

Depression and anxiety are both common mental health conditions. Depression is characterized by a significant lack of energy, hope, excitement, or joy. Individuals who are depressed commonly have a sad mood. Anxiety refers to being in a constant state of worry or fear, and the high levels of energy and restlessness that can come along with those feelings.

Signs of depression include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling hopeless, sad, or “empty” for the majority of the day
  • Being slowed down, agitated, or restless almost every day
  • Significant changes in weight (both losing and gaining weight)
  • Issues with sleeping, such as too much sleep, too little sleep, or trouble sleeping
  • Losing interest in activities that once were enjoyable
  • Significant loss of energy or tiredness
  • Feeling helpless, worthless, or guilty
  • Difficulties concentrating, making decisions, or remembering
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, including suicide planning and/or attempts1-3

If you or a loved one are having thoughts and feelings of harming yourself, please consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Signs of anxiety include, but are not limited to:

  • Significant, uncontrolled worry
  • Trouble concentrating or solving problems
  • Physically shaking or trembling
  • Worried facial expressions
  • Tightness of the muscles (muscle tension)
  • Dry mouth
  • Angry outbursts or angry/grouchy attitude
  • Restlessness1-3

Taking care of our mental health

Receiving a life-changing diagnosis like HIV can take a toll on anyone, regardless of their age, background, personal situation, and past medical history (including past mental health-related conditions). For some, the diagnosis itself may lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. For others, real or perceived stigma, relationship difficulties, financial struggles, and fear that can accompany life with HIV can trigger mental health issues.

Occasionally, medications used to suppress HIV can have mental health-related side effects. Overall, the risk of depression and anxiety among individuals living with HIV is greater than for those without HIV. For example, in the case of depression, some studies have suggested that individuals with HIV have almost double the risk of being depressed when compared to those who are not HIV positive.4,5

Help for depression and anxiety

As mentioned, positively managing depression and anxiety (and other mental health conditions) is important for maintaining strong overall health and wellbeing. Common methods for managing depression and anxiety include:

  • Seeking professional support and treatment: If symptoms of a mental health condition are impacting you (or a loved one’s) daily life, it may be time to seek professional support and treatment. Professional support can take on many forms. It can be more casual and include meetings with a counselor in an informal setting, or it can be more formal, including meetings with a psychiatrist (a mental health professional who can prescribe medications) in a traditional healthcare setting. The type of professional support you chose to use is completely up to you. The most important thing is to find a provider who makes you feel comfortable and respected. There are many options for treating mental health conditions, such as medications or different types of therapy. Being open to treatment and trying different options may help you manage depression and anxiety the best you can.
  • Finding a support network: It’s hard to cope with a diagnosis of any chronic condition on your own. It’s even harder to do it alone while struggling with a mental health condition. It is critical to find a support network that works for you. As with professional support options, there are many options for different kinds of support. Some may turn to friends and/or family, while others may find an in-person support group with other individuals with HIV. If you are uncomfortable meeting in person with others, online support groups (like ours) may be beneficial. Your healthcare provider or mental health professional may be able to suggest support groups in your area.
  • Exercising and eating healthy: Our exercise levels and diet can be directly related to our mental health. When we don’t exercise or eat only junk food, our bodies and minds both feel the effects. Participating in regular exercise, eating healthy, and drinking lots of water can help keep our minds and bodies in the best shape possible.
  • Participating in positive hobbies: Finding positive activities that bring joy and participating in them as much as possible can help improve mental health. Examples of positive hobbies that may bring positivity and fulfillment include, but are not limited to, journaling, prayer or other religious activities, crafting, reading, breathing techniques, relaxation techniques (like meditation), and more.2,3

As mentioned if you or a loved one are having thoughts and feelings of harming yourself, please consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). To find mental health providers in your area, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357), and they can connect you to resources in your area.3

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