Living Positive with HIV/AIDS
What are the thoughts (and challenges) that will come to you if you are HIV positive? How to address these thoughts?
HIV infection affects all dimensions of a person’s life: physical, psychological, sexual, and social. Counselling and social support can help people and their carers cope more effectively with each stage of the infection and enhances the quality of life. With adequate support, HIV positive people are more likely to be able to respond adequately to the stress of being infected and are less likely to develop serious mental health problems.
Fear of Discrimination
What is it: Societies, cultures and religions struggle to accept people living with HIV, causing numerous instances of discrimination, and lack of empathy, care and support to them.
What you should know: If you have HIV, you have right to treatment, right to confidentiality about your HIV status, right to employment, and right against discrimination at workplace.
Fear of Homophobia
What is it: Homophobia is “the irrational hatred, intolerance, and fear” of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and is also a form of discrimination. The global HIV epidemic has always been closely linked with negative attitudes towards LGBT people, especially men who have sex with men (sometimes referred to as MSM); a group that is particularly affected by HIV and AIDS.
What you should know: No one can deny you information or treatment for HIV based on your sexual or gender identity.
Fear of Dying
What is it: Testing positive for HIV means that you now carry the virus that causes AIDS, but it does not mean that you will die.
What you should know: Although there is no cure for AIDS, but there are treatments to keep the virus in check, and many opportunistic infections that make people sick can be controlled, prevented or eliminated. This can substantially increase your longevity and quality of life against HIV/AIDS.
Fear of Isolation
What is it: Isolation shouldn’t be confused with the number of people around an individual. A person living with HIV can be surrounded by crowds of people, yet because of stigma and discrimination, they can experience low self-worth or feel ostracised in their social settings.
What you should know: For people with HIV, their partners and families, psychosocial support can assist people in making informed decisions, coping better with illness and dealing more effectively with discrimination. It improves the quality of their lives and prevents further transmission of HIV infection.
Why is good mental health essential for good health (when you are HIV positive)?
People with HIV are vulnerable to mental health challenges including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, and insomnia. This can impair your immune functions, reduces adherence to treatment and significantly degrades your quality of life. Such issues can be caused due to personal and social isolation, loneliness, fear of not being accepted, self-hate, guilt, discrimination, mistreatment, etc.
It’s important to remember that mental health conditions are treatable and that you can recover with the help of suitable counselling, therapy, and medicines.
Does it help to seek professional help when self-help does not work?
Speaking to someone who has experience treating people with HIV is beneficial as they will have a better understanding of what you’re going through and can help you in dealing with the psychological impact.
Good mental health would include:
- Emotional well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, cheerfulness, peacefulness)
- Psychological well-being (self-acceptance, optimism, hopefulness, purpose in life, self-direction, healthy relationships)
- Social well-being (social acceptance, believing in the potential of people and society, self-worth and usefulness to society, sense of community)
Many patients with HIV/AIDS experience numerous challenges beyond those posed by the physical effects of their disease—including poverty, mental illness, drug addiction, social alienation, and homophobia. If you find yourself struggling after your diagnosis, isolating yourself, feeling low or bad about yourself, you should seek support from certified mental health professionals too.
Who can offer me professional help?
A certified mental health professional (counsellor or therapist) can help you with dealing with any psychosocial issues you might face due to your HIV diagnosis. It would be helpful for the counsellor or therapist to have an experience in dealing with HIV positive patients. It could include medication, one-on-one therapy, or both.
Family counselling might also be beneficial to those who wish to inform their family of their diagnosis, explain what it means, and help family members in adapting to the news. Some people with HIV or AIDS benefit from group therapy and/or support groups where they can connect and share with other people who are also infected as well as those who are not infected but may have a loved one who is.
It may also be invaluable to reach out to others who are HIV Positive and have managed their lives brilliantly. There are Many such excellent people! We are happy to connect you.