Seven mental health care after an HIV diagnosis
As with many other chronic diseases, receiving an HIV diagnosis can be a great shock, in part because it has not been possible to overcome the stigma surrounding the infection, which is related to certain groups in society or certain practices that are judged in a negative way.
Both the physical and psychological factors weigh heavily on most newly diagnosed people, and sometimes they can feel so overwhelmed that they don’t know where to start to put their lives back together.
If this is your situation, pay attention to the following seven steps that you can (and should) take to take care of your mental health after an HIV diagnosis.
- Breathe. The action of breathing, fundamental to existence, is often underestimated. However, conscious breathing can help clear your mind and calm the most intense anxiety. If you have just been diagnosed with HIV, stop for a moment, breathe deeply and rhythmically, and know that you will be fine, as current treatments control the infection and give you a good life.
- Talk it over with someone. You don’t have to tell everyone you know, but it is important that you can share the news with someone you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone! Living with a secret is stressful and suffocating, so talking about it with whomever you choose will help you cope better. Of course, you should also be prepared to answer questions, so take your time to make a good choice of that person.
- Talk to other people with HIV. Since the beginning of the epidemic, a solid community has been built. Amid all the pain and finger pointing, only people with HIV could understand others going through the same thing. Still today, the vast majority of hospital centers where HIV is treated have mutual support groups, which play a very important role in sheltering and containing those who have recently been diagnosed. Meeting other people with HIV will show you the real face of the infection: ordinary people who have managed to overcome those negative feelings that you are probably experiencing.
- Consider going to therapy. Whether it is sadness, fear, anger or hopelessness, feelings can be on the surface after news of this type. It is highly recommended that you seek therapy to receive the support you require, for example, about the changes that are coming in your life, about the future of your sexual life or as a couple, and about everything that worries you about living with the infection.
- Sleep. Possibly the worry or uncertainty of what is coming will not let you sleep, but try to do it. Lack of sleep greatly affects brain function, and not sleeping can increase your catastrophic thoughts about your new situation. Make an effort to rest (drink tea, listen to meditations), but if you can’t, get up and do some pending task. The important thing is that it doesn’t become a vicious cycle where your lack of sleep allows your worries to grow, and where your worries take away your sleep.
- Don’t be your worst critic. Given the diagnosis, you could fall into the trap of harshly judging yourself and criticizing yourself for having reached this point. If you made mistakes or not, if you could have done things differently, it doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, you can go back and look at how things happened as objectively as possible, but you can’t spend it beating yourself up for what you think was a mistake. Analyze the past just to see what you will do with your present and, of course, with your future.
- Exercise. It seems like a common place, but it is not. Physical exercise is one of the most effective mood regulators out there. When you exercise, endorphins are released, the so-called “happiness hormones” that make you feel better. Choose the activity that you like the most, not because everyone runs you have to do it too. Or even better, try different exercises and see which one produces the greatest well-being, not only physically, but also mentally.
Remember that today, antiretroviral treatments allow excellent control of HIV infection and people who take them correctly can have a quality and life expectancy very similar to that of people without HIV.
If you need support to start or resume your treatment, at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we can help you. Locate our offices in your country or write us by Whatsapp and find out about our services.