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Emotional wellbeing, mental health and your circumstances

Emotional distress and mental health problems, such as depression, have been linked to people not taking HIV treatment properly.

Particular events such as receiving an HIV diagnosis, bereavement, the breakdown of a relationship, financial worries, or dealing with starting HIV treatment or its side-effects, can result in feelings of unhappiness and emotional distress.

Feeling isolated or alone, or having worries about housing, access to health care, employment or money can all make it harder to take your HIV treatment properly. These concerns may seem more pressing and important than prioritising or taking your treatment. HIV organisations can be a good place to turn to for support if you are facing any of these issues. Your HIV clinic may be able to refer you to a service that can help, so it’s a good idea to tell your doctor about any problems you are having.

Drug use or problems with alcohol can also lead to low levels of adherence to HIV treatment. It makes good sense to tell your clinic if you are using drugs or are concerned about your use of alcohol. Help and support should be available.

Mental health problems can affect anybody, but it seems that people with HIV may be more likely than the general population to experience them. The groups most affected by HIV in the UK (gay men, refugees, migrants and drug users) are also more likely to have mental health problems, perhaps because of the stresses associated with being marginalised from much of mainstream society. Experiencing HIV-related stigma can be stressful in itself.

Conditions such as depression can be successfully treated and support is available through your clinic, from HIV support organisations, or through your GP surgery, if you are concerned about your emotional or mental health. It’s a good idea to tell your HIV doctor and your GP if you are depressed, particularly if this means that you’re having problems taking your treatment.

Largely thanks to the success of antiretroviral treatment, many people with HIV are now living well into old age. The risk of other medical problems increases as we age. For example, our memory is not as good as we get older. Often these changes are very mild and don’t have any noticeable impact on daily life. But problems with memory have been associated with missing doses of HIV treatment. If this is the case, your HIV clinic will be able to provide you with support. You may also find pill boxes, alarms, smartphone ‘apps’ and keeping a diary helps you to remember to take your treatment. There’s more information later in this booklet.

You can find out more about mental health in NAM’s booklet, HIV, mental health & emotional wellbeing. A good place to find out about the services available to you is on NAM’s e-atlas (www.aidsmap.com/e-atlas) or by contacting THT Direct on 0808 802 1221. See also Where to go for information, advice and support.

Taking your HIV treatment

Published March 2014

Last reviewed March 2014

Next review March 2017

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.