Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait which is thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage.1 Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common. Many people who are living with mental health disorders have, at some point, been blamed for their condition.
Depression: a common mental health condition
One of the most common mental health conditions that people living with HIV face is depression. Depression can range from mild to severe, and the symptoms of depression can affect our day-to-day life. Both HIV-related medical conditions and HIV treatment can contribute to depression.
What contributes to a depressive episode
I would argue that every person living with HIV faces mental health challenges at some point. Receiving an HIV diagnosis is a major stressor and can have a major impact on mental health. Many of us have experienced other stressors – the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, moving from one city to another, and sexual or physical assault - that could have contributed to episodes of depression.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Having a serious illness, like HIV, you may find that the diagnosis itself challenges your sense of well-being or complicates existing mental health conditions. Symptoms of depression include:2
- Feeling sad, anxious often or all the time
- Waking up too early, or sleeping too much
- Not wanting to do activities that used to be fun
- Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Eating more or less than usual or having no appetite
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering details or making decisions
- Feeling tired even after sleeping well
- Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless
- Thinking about suicide or hurting yourself
Seeking help for mental health conditions
Addressing our mental health challenges and seeking help will support our ability to show up for ourselves. So when we experience feeling trapped, hopeless, or we are wondering what we have to live for, it's time to take action.
My experience with seeing a therapist and attending support groups
I am living with bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and insomnia. After seeking help from a therapist and attending support groups, I have been able to live a healthier life. That’s not to say I still don’t have ups and downs. But with medication and talk therapy, I have tools to use when I am experiencing an episode. I communicate openly and honestly with my health care providers about my mental health so I can receive and continue to find the support I need.
Pushing past mental health stigma and shame
I encourage you to push past the shame and stigma associated with mental health and get the help and support you need to maintain good mental well-being. If you’re having symptoms of depression or another mental health condition, talk to your provider, social worker, or case manager to request a referral to a mental health provider or a support group.
Mental health refers to a person’s overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Good mental health helps us make healthy choices, reach personal goals, develop healthy relationships, and cope with stress. For those of us living with HIV, it’s important to take care of both our physical health and our mental health.3
People living with HIV have a higher risk of mental health conditions than people who do not have HIV. Mental health conditions are treatable, and people with mental health conditions can recover.3
At what age were you diagnosed with HIV?