Depression and HIV: Know When It's Time to Ask for Help
Coping with HIV Changes and Challenges
By December 24 42
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist and educator who works primarily with individuals living with chronic medical conditions, as well as their families and caregivers. He has written extensively on health and body-mind-spirit topics, including a regular column on mental health in HIV Plus magazine. He maintains a website, JustGotDiangosed.com, with information and inspiration for newly-diagnosed patients.
An HIV diagnosis can bring up a lot of feelings, and one of those feelings is sadness.
Life is going to be different, but you may not be sure how different it is going to be. Coping with your diagnosis, thinking about medications, deciding how to disclose your status and who to disclose it to, for example, can all leave you feeling overwhelmed.
When Things Fall Apart
How are you doing? Are you rolling with the punches? Or are you finding that those days when things feel almost unbearable are starting to outnumber the good ones? And, more importantly, are you feeling like you have the resources to handle what’s going on?
Feeling sad at times is part of being human. But when we think of depression, we normally think of someone who is unresponsive, maybe crying a lot, and feeling so “down” they can’t get through the day. Basically, people who are depressed have trouble maintaining their normal lives — getting up in the morning, getting ready for the day, doing work around the house, getting together with friends or family. Depression causes pain for the person who is depressed, and it also causes pain for the people around them who want to reach out but don’t know what to do.
How Do You Know if You are Depressed?
There are different kinds of depression, which a mental health professional, working with your doctor, can help to diagnose. A diagnosis is based on symptoms that are common among people suffering from depression. Some of the key symptoms include overwhelming sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in things you enjoy, isolating yourself, getting irritable or angry easily, losing or gaining weight or having difficulty sleeping.
Don’t diagnose yourself. Keep in mind that the presence of symptoms does not necessarily mean you are depressed. Only a professional can make this determination for you. But if you think there is a possibility that you may be depressed, you can take the first step to find out for sure. Why live this way if you can do something about it?
Getting Professional Help
When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping — shrink shopping, that is. If you feel like the sadness or other symptoms that you are experiencing may be depression, you may want to first talk to your doctor. He or she can begin by evaluating your symptoms to see if there is anything physical or medication-related that needs to be addressed. Your doctor may be able to help you with depression through medication, or refer you to a mental health professional. You can also find a mental health professional on your own, by exploring local resources or going online. Try to find someone who not only understands depression but who also has experience in addressing the special needs of individuals living with HIV. Caution: If you are feeling that life isn’t worth living, or have thoughts about suicide, call a mental health professional, or even dial 911, right away.
Self-Help Tips to Fight Depression
Build some prevention into your routine. Don’t isolate yourself at home. Get out and do something you enjoy, even if it’s only to take a walk. Get together with friends and family. Eat a balanced diet. Get some exercise and kick-start your good mood hormones. Who knows, you might even want to get a pet.
Depression is treatable. Don’t go through this alone.