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.
American Psychological Association
BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
BC Coalition of People with Disabilities
BC Harm Reduction Strategies and Services
Here to Help
BC Schizophrenia Society
Canadian Aids Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE)
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Working Group on HIV & Rehabilitation
Centre for Suicide Prevention
Coping with an HIV diagnosis
Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC
Women’s Health and HIV/AIDS
Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre
Mood Disorders Association of BC
Pacific AIDS Network
Positive Living Society of BC
Red Road HIV/AIDS Network (Provincial Aboriginal Network)
Youth in BC
Pain BC Toolbox
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association
APA Office on AIDS. HIV integrated care: Integrating mental health and substance abuse assessment and treatment into HIV prevention.
The Body. (2011). Depression and HIV.
Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre. How do I know if my child has a concurrent disorder? Retrieved from: