Tackling the ‘New Beast’: Mental Health for People Living with HIV

To commemorate International Youth Day we advocate for better mental health for vulnerable teenagers 

Across the world, developing countries are making progress in tackling the HIV epidemic. According to UNAIDS, in 2012 South Africa registered more than 450,000 new HIV infections, a significant drop from the 640,000 new infections registered in 2001. They’ve achieved this radical progress through the provision of antiretroviral therapy (ART) to more than 2.4 million people.

The ‘New Beast’: Mental Illness Among People Living with HIV

In South Africa, 38% of people living with HIV have a common mental health disorder. This is more than triple the incidence of mental health conditions for the general South African population. What’s shocking is that in this era of ART, increased advocacy, and knowledge of the condition, there has not been a decrease in prevalence of mental illness in people living with HIV, but a two-fold increase.

Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders are of particular concern in patients with HIV because they can lead to:
• Poor treatment adherence
• Lower CD4 counts
• Increased viral load
• A greater chance of developing drug-resistant strains of HIV

Source: Mental Health Innovation Network

HIV and Maternal Mental illness

The enormous emotional strain of living with HIV, including its social and financial consequences, makes women vulnerable to depression and anxiety. On the other hand, those women with mental illness are more vulnerable to becoming HIV positive. A depressed woman is less likely to be able to negotiate safe sex due to low self-esteem, a sense of hopelessness or financial dependency.

HIV nursing matters
Image: HIV Nursing Matters

Women at risk
• HIV+ mothers are particularly vulnerable to mental illness during and after pregnancy
• Mental illness affects how women use maternity, child health services and HIV services
• Mental illness has been found to have negative impacts on how HIV+ women adhere to their own and their child’s HIV treatment
• Mental health support and social support for HIV+ mothers is vital for the general health of women, their babies and families

Read more on the subject in our Issue Brief

Teenage pregnancy and mental illness

Approximately 30% of teenagers in South Africa report ‘ever having been pregnant’, the majority, unplanned. The likelihood of a subsequent teenage pregnancy nearly doubles when adolescent mothers suffer from depression.


teen pregnancy
Image: PSI Impact

Adolescents at risk
• Adolescents who become pregnant are more likely to have relationships that are coercive and abusive
• They are more likely to have had a forced first sexual experience, or physical or sexual abuse, and tend to experience a loss of support from family, friends or school
•  They are also more likely to engage in high risk sexual behaviour or be using substances and alcohol
• Adolescent and young pregnant women are at increased risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV

Read more on the subject in our Issue Brief

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Posted on August 12, 2016, in End Stigma, HIV/AIDS, Maternal Mental Health, Mental Health, Teen pregnancy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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