Mental Health and Addictions

The link between HIV, mental health and addictions.

It is normal to feel sad, shocked, helpless, or even angry upon learning that you have HIV. However, if the feelings don’t go away and you notice a marked loss of interest in activities for more than two weeks, you may be experiencing depression. People living with HIV are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Although HIV does not directly cause depression, people living with HIV are twice as likely as the general public to experience depression. HIV can also trigger a manic episode in people living with bipolar disorder.

When people are living with a chronic health problem such as HIV, and experiencing other stressful life events, they may turn to substances to help temporarily relieve their negative emotions. However, substance misuse can trigger or worsen mental illness and can seriously affect a person’s physical health and HIV treatment. Studies show that the co-occurrence of mental health and substance abuse increases a person’s risk for HIV nearly 12 times more than those without. In BC, it is estimated that about 130,000 people are living with concurrent disorders. People are also at an increased risk of attempting suicide when under the influence of substances.

Stress, mental illness, and substance misuse can worsen HIV and other health conditions by making it difficult for people to attend medical appointments, keep to a consistent medication schedule, or lead a healthy lifestyle. They may also accelerate HIV’s progression to advanced HIV/AIDS. If you or anyone you know is exhibiting signs of depression or other mental illness, it is important to talk to them about it and encourage them to see their doctor or another health care provider that they are comfortable talking to. People battling substance misuse and mental illness can get better, whether or not they are living with HIV. People successfully recover from depression more than 80 per cent of the time when it is identified and treated correctly. Helpful coping strategies include stress management, following a regular sleep and eating schedule, exercising, talking to a friend, counsellor, or other health professional, and/or medication.

Links to Online Resources

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HIV101.ca is sponsored by the STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project which is funded by the Government of British Columbia supporting Northern Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority, Providence Health Care, and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. The STOP HIV/AIDS project aims to expand HIV testing, treatment, and support in British Columbia.
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