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Mental Health Issues for Women With HIV and AIDS

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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Everyone is at risk for HIV and AIDS, and women make up around 25 percent of the people diagnosed in the U.S. with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

An international HIV and AIDS charity called AVERT states on its website that “at the end of 2009 it was estimated that out of the 33.3 million adults worldwide living with HIV and AIDS, slightly more than half are women. The AIDS epidemic has had a unique impact on women, which has been exacerbated by their role within society and their biological vulnerability to HIV infection.”

Unfortunately for women, vaginal sex can be more dangerous in regards to getting HIV than it is for men. One reason for this is that the vagina has a larger area which is potentially exposed to semen infected with HIV, in comparison to the penis, according to the website for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health.

Women have to keep in mind how they are more at risk in some cases than men for HIV, and for women who already have HIV, the condition can be challenging.

“Women are mothers, caretakers, spouses, employees, friends, and neighbors — often all at once,” according to the website. “Living with HIV as a woman often means dealing with the disease while still fulfilling these other roles. And, HIV introduces many new issues for women to manage.”

Besides regular life challenges and struggles associated with the physical aspects of HIV, there are mental health issues to deal with for women as well.

Dr. Soroya Bacchus, a psychiatrist, said in an email that when women are diagnosed with HIV, and it can be shocking, thus affecting their mental health as well.

“The changes to their everyday lives can be overwhelming,” Bacchus said. “Oftentimes, feelings of helplessness, sadness, and fear can be all-encompassing … Denial many times accompanies such a condition as well, and without a proper channel to process these feelings they can become exponentially worse as more time passes.”

Here are some coping tips from Bacchus for women who are living with HIV, AIDS and/or a mental health condition as well:

1) “The best way one can deal with living with HIV or AIDS and a mental health condition is to seek treatment for both, and there are several different options available in which to do so. Obviously, seeking medical treatment for HIV is an absolute must, and by not processing denial, fear or depression can only worsen the medical aspects of this condition.

"Weekly counseling sessions with a personal therapist will help you be able to process feelings and concerns that you are not comfortable addressing in a group settings.”

2) “Talking about your feelings with [others], such as in a support group, can help you identify with others who are going through the same thing, while also coming to the conclusion that you are not alone in your suffering.”

3) “Getting exercise through activities such as gardening, walking, jogging or even dancing can relieve some of the tension and anger that may be crippling you mentally.”

4) “Avoid situations which provoke negative reactions or cause you to feel stressed or angry. Using drugs or alcohol to cope with these feeling will only amplify them and can have a disastrous impact on your HIV treatment regimen.”

5) “Another great way to deal with your feelings is by volunteering at an HIV (or other chronic condition) service organization. This may empower you while simultaneously lessening your fears or anxieties.”

6) “Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can be a great outlets for processing anxiety.”

7) “Let it out! Bottling up your emotions will not benefit you in the long run! A good cry can relieve stress or anxiety, and prevent other physical problems such as headaches.”

8) “Communicate your worries, frustrations and anxieties to friends and family. The only way others can help you through this is if they know what is going on with you.”

9) “Don’t give up what you love! No matter what it is, if it’s physically possible, you should absolutely continue to pursue your passions. Anything that makes you happy or puts you in a better mental state can manifest itself in physical ways, possibly even improving your condition. "

10) "Don’t forget you are still a woman! Empowering yourself by continuing to put on makeup, dressing up, and making yourself look and feel beautiful can be a great tool to battle feelings of depression.”


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV among Women – Topics – CDC HIV/AIDS. HIV among Women. Web. September 21, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/women

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Factsheets – CDC HIV/AIDS. Fact Sheets. Web. September 21, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/index.htm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Women who have sex can get HIV – womenshealth.gov. HIV/AIDS. Web. September 21, 2011. http://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-aids/women-are-at-risk-of-hiv/women-who-have-sex-can-get-hiv.cfm

AVERT. Women, HIV and AIDS. Web. September 21, 2011. http://www.avert.org/women-hiv-aids.htm

Bacchus, Soroya. Email interview. September 20, 2011.

Reviewed September 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

Since its discovery, AIDS has caused an estimated 36 million deaths worldwide (as of 2012). As of 2012, approximately 35.3 million people are living with HIV globally.

May 24, 2014 - 8:29am
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