Risk of mental illness excessively high among the HIV-positive

Risk of mental illness excessively high among the HIV-positive

A lot of progress has been witnessed in the HIV/AIDS treatment domain in recent years. With the availability of lifesaving drugs, the disease has become comparatively less miserable. However, there is enough risk of developing associated illnesses, including mental health disorders, after being infected with the HIV virus.

As such, most of the HIV-positive people usually go through a phase of shock and grief when they are informed for the first time about the presence of the virus in their bodies. However, it’s only in the later phase of the disease that the patients come to know about their chances of developing mental illnesses due to the infection.

According to psychiatrists, mental illnesses can be common among people with AIDS, the rate of depression being as high as 60 percent compared to 5 to 10 percent in others.

Here are some mental illnesses that may occur along with HIV/AIDS.

1. Dementia

Dementia is a common co-occurrence with AIDS due to the viral infection of the brain. Usually, HIV-associated dementia causes cognitive problems, such as functional impairment and behavioral abnormalities. Overall, the cognitive disturbance starts with slowed thinking, which is followed by memory impairment, forgetting important things and difficulty in concentrating.

Such patients take a longer time in completing the normal activities. They may also require repeated readings to understand texts. With the passing of time, gross cognitive disturbances cause greater difficulty to patients in maintaining their financial affairs and other aspects of life.

2. Depression

It has been largely observed that HIV infection or AIDS can aggravate the symptoms of depression. Some medications for treating HIV such as efavirenz (Sustiva) can worsen one’s depression.

Additionally, drug use, low levels of testosterone, and deficiency of vitamin B6 or B12 can cause depression-related symptoms. Having both HIV and hepatitis B or C can worsen depression in a person, more so if he or she is being treated with Interferon.

Other risk factors for depression include:

  • History of mental illness, or alcohol and substance abuse, both personally and within the family
  • Lack of social support
  • Being discreet about one’s HIV condition
  • Treatment failure (HIV or other)

3. Anxiety

Anxiety is quite a prevalent symptom in HIV-positive patients due to constant worry and grief. The severe levels of anxiety symptoms can cause panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), etc.

Of the HIV-infected patients under medical care, as many as 20.3 percent have been found to display anxiety disorders, 12.3 percent were observed to suffer from panic disorder, 10.4 percent from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 2.8 percent from GAD. People with other psychiatric disorders such as adjustment disorders, psychosis, or substance use disorders, can also have significant levels of anxiety.

4. Bipolar disorder

Patients with HIV have an increased possibility of having bipolar disorder than the general population. Since HIV-infected patients are usually more vulnerable to mood swings, which are an inseparable part of bipolar disorder, the chances of developing the disorder increases.

Since the disorder often results in extreme decision-making, risky behavior and suicidal tendencies, it is necessary to treat it to enable better coping strategies among the HIV-positive patients. Bipolar disorder can be treated with psychotherapy and medication.

Mental illnesses can be treated

Although mental illnesses associated with HIV/AIDS are more critical in nature than other diseases, a number of treatment options are available for patients. Such patients with mental illnesses can be provided lifesaving treatment through supervised care.

If someone you know is suffering from AIDS and co-occurring mental illnesses, it is recommended to seek help from the California Mental Health Helpline staff immediately. You can also learn more about mental health centers in California by having an online chat. Alternatively, if you want to information on mental health rehabilitation centers in California, you can call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923.