“Mind over matter” is a phrase many of us have come to see as reductive and inaccurate when it comes to LGBTQ health -- but when we’re talking about HIV, the mind matters more than some people may think. Mental health and HIV are intrinsically linked, and whether you’re currently living with HIV or you’re at a high risk of infection, mental healthcare is an important part of staying safe and happy in all the ways you deserve to be.
The team at PrEP2Me wants everyone we treat to be well-educated on all aspects of HIV healthcare that affect them, including the correlation between HIV and mental health. Here’s how the two are connected, and how addressing them both is important to a comprehensive healthcare plan:
HIV Can Put You At Risk for Mental Illness
Even though HIV outcomes are better than ever, no one is going to downplay the initial seriousness of receiving a positive test result. HIV remains a life-threatening illness, and when paired with negative social stigma and systemic obstacles to accessing the resources you need, the experience of being diagnosed can quickly become lonely, scary, and dark.
This being the case, it comes as no surprise that HIV-positive individuals are at an increased risk for a number of mental health struggles, especially depression. There’s also a correlation between groups who are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV and groups who are already at risk for mental illness, including transgender people, cisgender MSM (men who have sex with men), and those who use intravenous drugs.
Mental Health Struggles Can Put You At Risk for HIV
Even if you’re not HIV positive, learning about the correlation between mental health and HIV is important and relevant to you. If you’re currently living with untreated depression, anxiety, or a mood disorder (which includes bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and ADHD among others), your risk of HIV infection is significantly higher than that of someone who is neurotypical, or even someone who is currently receiving mental health treatment.
The reason for this has nothing to do with you being “wrong” or having a “bad brain.” Mental illness is hard to live with, and when it comes from inside of you, it can feel like your options for relief are minimal. With this mindset, many people turn to high-risk activities such as opioid use and high-risk sex in order to escape. Mental illness is also linked to systemic factors that can increase your risk for HIV, including poverty, food insecurity, and abuse.
You Can Access Care for Both
Given that HIV and mental illness have this “vice versa” relationship, it only makes sense that mental healthcare should be an integral part of any healthcare plan related to HIV, whether you’re positive or practicing prevention. Invest some time in receiving mental health counseling from a provider who’s sensitive to your identity, risk factors, and financial limitations, and who is willing to help you without judgment or reservations. You can also arm yourself with this knowledge to take control of your own situation. You know that finding a healthy support system and treating yourself with kindness and patience isn’t just good practice: it’s integral to your health.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, there are accessible, compassionate, and competent professionals who are waiting to help you, including the providers at Central Outreach Wellness Center. If you’re not currently utilizing an HIV prevention plan, don’t wait -- start a daily regimen of PrEP, which can reduce your risk of HIV infection by 99%.
Want to start enjoying your life worry-free? Get started with PrEP2Me, where we make staying safe easy and accessible for everyone!