The Emotional Side of HIV

A lot has changed about HIV in the decades since the virus was first discovered. Today we have effective prophylactic medications, powerful antiviral medications and a host of research that promises to deliver effective inoculation, maybe even a cure. But there’s more to living with HIV than just the physical side effects of medication and possible consequences of disease progression. Depression, guilt and shame are common emotional experiences for those living with HIV, but promising medical prognoses may also promise hope and emotional wellbeing.

Emotional Responses to Diagnosis

Each person’s emotional experience in response to an HIV-positive diagnosis is different, colored by their expectations and experiences. We’ve seen individuals in high-risk populations shrug off a diagnosis because they figured it was inevitable. We’ve also seen individuals in high-risk populations sob, lamenting nearly every life choice that brought them to this point. Still, there are some common themes:

  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Depression

Many people feel isolated, like their infection status disqualifies them from their normal lives. Many people feel like they are still fighting the stigma of HIV—a disease born of promiscuity, drug addiction or depravity.

Emotional Side Effects of Medication

Emotional support, including counseling, can help an individual cope with the emotions that arise at the beginning of one’s life with HIV. For many people, realizing that HIV is no longer a death sentence—that they can live long, healthy, normal lives—allows the negative emotions to simply dissipate. However, acceptance of living with HIV is not the end of depression for some. Clinical depression and anxiety are side effects of many common HIV medications.

We encourage individuals who experience prolonged sadness and/or anxiety to talk to our therapists. Counseling can help with depression, and many people are able to achieve emotional balance with the help of antidepressants.

Your Emotional Journey

There is no “right” way to respond to an HIV-positive diagnosis, but how you feel upon receiving the news is not how you will feel forever. Advanced treatments allow many people to live symptom-free for decades…and when you have the skills to build a strong emotional support network, you can live free of the stigma and shame often associated with HIV, too. UNM Truman Health Services provides the mental health resources you need to navigate the emotional side of living with HIV. Please contact us to speak to a licensed counselor.