Living with a chronic health condition like HIV and/or AIDS can be physically demanding and even limiting, but there are also mental health aspects to consider. Experts shed light onto how mental health is affected by living with this kind of chronic health condition.
First, to get a basic idea of how many people are affected just by the chronic illness HIV in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control website states that it is estimated that around 56,000 people were infected with HIV.
This virus can develop into AIDS, which is a final and severe stage of HIV. This condition can make it difficult for the body’s immune system to function properly.
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, though medication and treatments can help people live a healthier life. Common ways to spread HIV are through unprotected sex, sharing needles and being born to a mother with HIV.
Frank Sileo, a licensed psychologist who also has a chronic health condition called Crohn’s disease, has worked with patients who have HIV.
“In my experience, some common mental health conditions associated with people with chronic illness such as HIV are depression and anxiety,” Sileo said in an email. “Illness is like dropping a pebble in a still pond with the rippling effects reaching family, friends, job etc.”
Despite the psychological effects some chronic illnesses can lead to, some people tend to ignore warning signs.
“I believe that when people are diagnosed with a chronic illness, they take depression and anxiety as natural ‘side effects’ of having an illness, yet do nothing about it,” Sileo said. “This is not the correct approach to take. HIV is an autoimmune disease. Depression taps our immune functioning. So if we do not take care of the depression, we are further depleting our body's necessary resources to fight illness.”
If you think about it, any type of illness, especially one that is stigmatized, can cause some anxiety, because it’s uncertain how the present and future will be impacted.