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In light of December being HIV and AIDS Awareness Month, Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, emphasises the importance of good mental health in patients with HIV.

HIV may undermine your sense of well-being or aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions. HIV and some opportunistic infections can also affect your nervous system and cause behavioural changes. Good mental health will allow you to live your life to the fullest and is an integral part of ensuring HIV treatment is successful.

“Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions HIV patients face,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

Depression symptoms that can interfere with your daily life include anxiety, persistent sadness, emptiness, helplessness, negativity, loss of appetite, and disinterest in engaging with others. Understanding when, how, and where to seek help to manage your mental health.”

What Is HIV?

The virus that causes AIDS is known as HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV can be transmitted through sexual contact, syringe sharing, pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.


HIV weakens the immune system by destroying CD4+ T cells, a type of white blood cell essential for infection resistance. People living with HIV are more vulnerable to other infections and diseases due to the loss of these cells.


People living with HIV can now live long and healthy lives thanks to effective anti-HIV medications. When taken as directed, these daily medications, known as antiretroviral therapy (ART), can reduce the amount of virus in the blood to levels undetectable by standard tests.

Why Are People Living With HIV And Aids More Likely To Develop Mental Illnesses?

The stress of living with a severe illness or condition, such as HIV, can have an impact on a person’s mental health. HIV patients are more likely to develop mood, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. Depression, for example, is one of the most common mental health conditions among HIV patients.

It is critical to remember that mental illnesses can be treated, and people with them can recover.


HIV and other related infections can also harm the brain and nervous system, altering how a person thinks and acts. Furthermore, some HIV medications can negatively affect a person’s mental health.

Situations that can lead to mental health issues in those with HIV include:
  • Having difficulty obtaining mental health services
  • Isolation as a result of a loss of social support
  • Being laid off or concerned about your ability to perform at work
  • Fear of illness and death
  • Decreased self-esteem related to body changes
  • Survivor’s guilt
  • Difficulty performing daily activities
Furthermore, people living with HIV may encounter situations that harm their mental health, such as:
  • Having to inform others of an HIV diagnosis
  • Taking care of HIV medications and medical treatment
  • Being subjected to HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination


Understanding how HIV affects mental health and knowing what resources are available can help people manage their overall health and well-being.

What Other Complications Can HIV Cause?

HIV causes severe inflammation in the body. This inflammation can potentially cause neurological complications by causing damage to the spinal cord and brain, which comprise the central nervous system.


Despite effective antiretroviral therapy (ART), people with HIV are at risk for HIV-related central nervous system diseases. These diseases can be neurological (affecting the nervous system) or neurocognitive (affecting the mind) (affecting cognition or mental processing).


Severe neurological impairments like dementia, brain atrophy, and encephalitis (brain inflammation) are less common in people on ART than in people with HIV who are not on ART. However, there are still less severe forms of HIV-related central nervous system diseases.


Researchers are trying to figure out how HIV affects the central nervous system. This information will help develop new treatments to improve the lives of HIV patients. Understanding which types of cells in the central nervous system are targeted by HIV infection and how those cells are damaged may aid in developing HIV prevention, treatment, and cure efforts.


Research efforts are also focused on determining why HIV is more difficult to eradicate in specific body tissues and what strategies might be more effective on those cells.

How Can Hiv Patients Improve Their Mental Health?

According to research, HIV treatment should begin as soon as possible after diagnosis to achieve the best health outcomes. Following a treatment plan, such as taking medications prescribed by a doctor, is critical for virus control and suppression.


“It can be difficult to stick to a treatment plan, but there are strategies that can help, such as creating a routine, setting the alarm, and downloading a reminder app on a smartphone,” adds Hewlett.


“Starting ART can have a variety of effects on mental health. Therefore, it is critical for people living with HIV to consult with a healthcare provider about their mental health before beginning ART. These discussions should continue throughout treatment,” concludes Hewlett.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading provider of health insurance, offering you a range of options at affordable rates including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, your budget, and your lifestyle. Our range of healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service at all times. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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