HIV & Depression – Effects, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

The moment you come to know that you have HIV infection; you are bound to get visuals of painful death. The trauma associated with AIDS/HIV keeps you in a state of shock, grief and sadness. Eventually it leads to Depression.

According to the results of various studies, the rates of depression in HIV infected patients are around 60% as compared to only 5% to 10% in general population. Moreover, depression associated with AIDS/HIV is more common in women than men.

To face AIDS/HIV infection requires you to be mentally strong. However in majority of cases, patients succumb to pressure and social stigma attached with AIDS and get into depression.

Although depression associated with HIV is dreadful condition, it is not easily recognised and doctors may associate the depression symptoms with signs of advancing HIV.

Effect of depression on HIV/AIDS

Depression can adversely affect the treatment in patients infected with HIV. Patients struggle to cope with the intense treatment regime and pressure associated with it.

Patients get reluctant to take active part in their treatment and tend to miss out their doses of medication. Moreover, in severe cases depression promotes high-risk behaviours that may spread HIV infection in others.

Depression may lead to fast progression of HIV disease and activated the latent viral infections.

It also interferes with your ability to enjoy life.

Causes of Depression linked with HIV

People infected with HIV are likely to get depressed due to following reasons.

  • Medications used for treating AIDS/HIV may worsen the depression symptoms
  • Low levels of testosterone
  • Low levels of Vitamin B6 or vitamin B12
  • Hiding about your disease from others
  • Failure of HIV treatmen

Symptoms of depression in HIV patients

The symptoms of depression in HIV patients vary from one person to other. Generally, patients begin to show feelings of depression from the moment they are aware of their HIV infection. If these feelings persist for longer term, patient gets depressed.

  • Tiredness or Fatigue
  • Reluctant to engage in any activity
  • Difficulty in concentrating or memorising
  • Very low sex drive
  • Sleep disturbances including too much sleep or too less sleep
  • Loss of appetite or tendency to overeat
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Feeling of worthlessness or hopelessness

Treatment of depression in HIV patients

Psychiatrists perform the comprehensive evaluation of depressed HIV patients before deciding about the antidepressants and other treatment therapies.

As some of the antidepressants cause various side effects so doctors need to monitor how their patients are responding to medication. The psychiatrists usually prescribe the drugs that produce maximum benefits with least side effects in patients.

Antidepressants should be used in supervision of a doctor who is taking care of HIV treatment.

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • tricyclics
  • psychostimulants
  • dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Common side effects of antidepressants are loss of sexual desire, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, lack of appetite, upset stomach, diarrhoea, etc.

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy/ Psychotherapy/ or talk therapy
  • Physical exercise
  • Support from families/friends

Other therapies for treating depression in HIV patients

Lifestyle changes

  • Daily regular exercise
  • Good sleeping habits
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Counselling Sessions
  • Stress management training that involves training the patients to cope up with various stressful situations
  • Problem-solving therapy that assist in identifying the problems and learning ways for solving them.
  •  Support group where patients can express their emotions freely
  • Coping Skills for taking care of depression and cancer treatment

Alternative therapies

  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Supplements of vitamins B6 or B12