Life with HIV can involve emotional stresses and strains. Finding out that you have HIV can lead to a wide range of feelings. Commonly reported feelings after an HIV diagnosis include fear, worry, guilt, shame, embarrassment, anger and sadness. Other people feel numb, and some others feel a sense of relief to have finally found out.
People's feeling about having HIV often change over time, so your initial response to finding out that you have HIV is unlikely to last and many people find that they gradually 'come to terms' with having HIV. Illness, starting or changing treatment can all be sources of anxiety or cause emotional distress and can involve a revisiting or reconsideration of feelings about life with HIV. And most people with HIV will find that their emotional wellbeing is affect by life with the virus no matter how successful an adjustment they make to their diagnosis.
First of all, it's perfectly acceptable to have feelings that you find difficult. Although it can be easier said than done, don't feel bad about feeling bad. Acknowledging your feelings is an important first step to working them out.
There's a lot you can do to look after your emotional wellbeing.
Talking about your experiences and feelings with a loved one or friend can be a big help. Counselling when you are finding your thoughts and feelings difficult, hard to understand or work through can also be helpful and it's likely that your HIV clinic will be able to help you find a suitable source of counselling.
Looking after the basics requirements of life - getting enough sleep and food - provide an important foundation for your emotional wellbeing. So if you are have problems sleeping or eating for any reason it makes good sense to ask for help.
Drink and drugs are used by many people for short-term relief when they are experiencing difficult feelings. They might might offer temporary relief, but in the long run are likely to make your feelings harder to deal with and can, in some circumstances, also damage your physical health.
Engaging in productive and enjoyable activities can also help promote a feeling of wellbeing. Having interests that you find engaging and rewarding (in any way) are important. So too are goals, and it's helpful if these are realistic and can be achieved by taking small, measurable steps.
Feeling isolated can be a source of distress, so finding ways of interacting with other people in ways that you are comfortable are important to good emotional wellbeing for many people.
Some, but not all people, find that faith or spirituality are important sources of comfort and stimulation. Prayer, meditation or quiet reflection are found helpful by many people.
Mental health problems can affect anybody, but it seems that people with HIV are more likely to experience a range of mental health problems, not least because the groups most affected by HIV in the UK (gay men, refugees, migrants and drug users) are already more likely to have mental health problems.
Advanced HIV infection itself is known to cause mental health problems, although these are now very rare. More common are feelings of acute emotional distress that often accompany adverse life events and clinical mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. In addition, some anti-HIV drugs can cause psychological problems.