Looking after your mental health when living with HIV
Published by: LifeWorks,
Recently, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP in the UK publicly revealed that he has been HIV positive for nearly ten years.
“I wanted to be able to stand here in this place and say to those living with HIV that our status doesn’t define them. That we can be whoever we want to be.”
The announcement was a positive message for all those who are HIV positive, as was the timing as December raises awareness for the condition through World Aids Day.
Having HIV doesn’t mean what it meant 30 years ago and today HIV patients can live long, happy and healthy lives. However, there’s still a stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. Ian Green, chief executive of sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said Russell-Moyle’s announcement “does a lot to normalize HIV in the public’s mind” and would help tackle the stigma associated with the virus.
According to mental health professionals, around one in three people living with HIV have symptoms of depression at some point in their lives. If you’re living with HIV, you may have been given a lot of guidance and treatment on how to look after your physical health but looking after your emotional and mental health is just as important.
From learning you are HIV positive to starting lifelong treatment or deciding the best way to share your diagnosis with your loved ones, friends and colleagues, you may have worries that are specific to living with HIV, which may, in turn, affect your mental well-being.
1 in 5 people living with HIV in England and Wales feel isolated or lonely.
How you can look after your mental health when living with HIV
Recognizing the way you’re feeling is the first step to managing your emotional well-being. Here are some tips to help you:
• Don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, depressed or suicidal. They’re not there just to give you treatment and check your viral load. They need to know if you’re experiencing other difficulties that could affect your overall health.
• Talk to family and friends about your feelings, or if that is not possible, numerous support groups and helplines work with HIV positive persons that can offer you emotional and practical well-being advice. Check Positively UK or the Terrence Higgins Trust if you’re in the UK, The Body or the HIV.gov in the US, and the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) or the Canadian AIDS Society.
• It’s essential to have a positive support system from the very first time you find out until you feel you’re back in control. Counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help if you prefer to talk to someone professional about your feelings and experience with the diagnosis rather than your family or partner.
• Exercise and staying healthy, as well as sleep, are essential for keeping you healthy — both physically and mentally. By forming healthier habits, you may discover that not only it helps with some of the symptoms but that it also boosts your mental health.
Remember that HIV is no longer a death sentence. With access to treatment, care and support you can live a healthy and happy life. But the biggest challenges you face when living with HIV are the ones rooted in negative attitudes and misconceptions around HIV that can make you feel negative or uncertain about what the future holds. By looking after your mental health and getting the support you need, you will be able to face these challenges.