With the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban well under way, HIV is at the forefront of the news. As a result, South Africans are having to consider the enormous proportions of the disease, and to consider the frightening prevalence of HIV/AIDS in our country. What the public may not have considered is the relationship between HIV and depression.
Unfortunately we tend to focus on the physical health aspects of HIV and forget the mental health issues involved. These issues are key to the quality of life and even the very survival of those suffering with HIV/AIDS. Studies show that over half of all people with HIV are likely to end up with clinical depression. Statistics show that depression is the most common psychiatric disorder found among people with HIV.
These statistics have important consequences for the treatment of HIV-infected individuals, as depression is known to be one of the leading causes of non-adherence to HIV medications. Evidence suggests that chronic depression is associated with increased mortality in HIV-infected individuals. This is not surprising in light of the fact that the symptoms of depression (such as feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, and the deterioration of social relationships), may negatively influence the HIV-infected individual’s will to survive. With the advent of various promising HIV medications there is hope. The tragedy is that the person suffering from depression may not be able to see that. The South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group are able to provide HIV-infected individuals who may be suffering from depression with telephonic support, counseling and referrals to appropriate health care workers. The Support Group can be contacted on (011) 783-1474/6 or (011) 884-1797, Monday to Friday (8 am to 7 pm) and Saturdays (8am to 5 pm).
The diagnosis of clinical depression in HIV-infected individuals is not an easy task, and as a result many go untreated. Because many of the symptoms of depression are commonly found in HIV-infected individuals, as a result of the HIV-related illnesses or the HIV medications themselves, the depression may be masked. These common symptoms include loss of sexual desire, loss of appetite, insomnia, a lack of energy and fatigue. The distinction between HIV-infected individuals suffering from depression and those not suffering from depression can be made on the basis of the less physical symptoms. These symptoms include a persistent lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, loss of self-esteem, the feeling that life is not worth living and recurrent thoughts of suicide. HIV-infected individuals most likely to develop depression include those who have a family history of depression, alcohol or drug abusers, those individuals who have suffered a loss of social support systems and individuals who have experienced multiple losses.
Depression can be treated. The key when you are depressed is the same as the key when you are HIV+ - educate yourself and take action to get the treatments you need!