HIV’s Impact on Mental Health

Almost everyone comes face to face with mental health challenges at some point in their lives. Major stresses—like mourning the death of a loved one, going through a divorce, losing a job, or moving—can all have a pretty big impact on mental health. Having a serious illness like HIV can also be a major stressor that impacts one’s mental health. Some people living with HIV find that it challenges their sense of well-being or even complicates existing mental health conditions. HIV can also affect your nervous system or lead to behavior changes. Having good mental health will absolutely help you live your life to the fullest and is essential to successfully treating HIV.

HIV Depression: What it is and where you can find treatment

One of the most common mental health conditions that people living with HIV battle is depression. Depression can range anywhere from mild to severe and the symptoms can affect your day-to-day life on different levels. According to the CDC, symptoms of depression can include:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling “empty”
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Negativity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disinterest in engaging with others

The good news is that depression is manageable and treatable. Your health care provider, social worker, or case manager can refer you to a mental health provider that will get you on the right track to treatment. Curious about what kind of mental health providers are out there? They can include:

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medically trained physicians that treat mental health conditions with therapies such as talk therapy and by prescribing medicine.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists are trained professionals who help people cope with life challenges and mental health conditions with therapies, but usually cannot prescribe medicines.
  • Therapists: Mental health or marriage and family counselors who help people cope with life issues and mental health problems.
  • You might also choose to join a support group.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Find Help website provides a list of organizations and contact numbers that can help you find mental health treatment and support in your local area.

To learn more about depression’s causes, symptoms, and treatments, consult the National Institute of Mental Health resources on this topic. For more information about other mental health conditions, visit the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Mental Disorders.

Proper Disposal of Unused Medications

Prescription medications are a very important part of millions of Americans lives. However, expired medications or drugs that are left unused often stay in the back of medicine cabinets for months or sometimes even years. These unused and unattended drugs, whether expired or not, become serious health hazards to toddlers, teens, and even family pets who may inadvertently consume them. Some medications could even be fatal if accidentally ingested. Did you know that researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that nearly 70% of prescription opioids in homes with children aren’t stored safely?

There are other important safety issues at play here, as well. The misuse of prescription narcotic drugs is becoming an increasingly serious public health concern. Over 46,000 Americans die each year from drug-related deaths, and over half of them are related to heroin and prescription opioids.

These statistics really show the need for proper disposal of expired/unused prescription medications from homes to help prevent any misuse or accidental consumption of dangerous drugs. But how? In addition to Drug Take Back Day and similar community programs (check with your local law enforcement to find out if your community participates – and when it does), medications can be properly disposed of at home. Below are the FDA’s recommendations on proper home-disposal of your unused and expired prescription drugs.

 

There are two different ways to dispose of medicine at home, depending on the drug.

  1. Flushing. Some medicines can be especially harmful to others, so they have specific directions to flush them down the sink or toilet immediately when they are no longer needed.

But how do know if your mediation calls for disposal by flushing? You can check the label or a patient information leaflet, if it requires this method of disposal, it will say so. You can also check the FDA’s list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing.

  1. Disposing in the trash. Almost all medicines (with the except of those that call for being flushed) can be thrown away in your household trash. This includes both prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the form of pills, liquids, drops, patches, creams, and inhalers.

Follow these steps to ensure a proper disposal:

  1. Remove the drugs from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable (commonly used items for this are used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter). This makes the drugs less appealing to children and pets who could otherwise ingest them, as well as rendering them unrecognizable to someone who could be intentionally go through the trash in search of drugs.
  2. Put the mixture you made in something close-able, like a resealable storage bag or empty can, to prevent the drugs from leaking or spilling out.
  3. Throw the container away in the garbage.
  4. Scratch out any personal information that might be on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy, then throw the packaging away.

Be sure to ask your health care provider or pharmacist if you have any questions about your medications and how to dispose of them. If you’re looking for more information about Drug Take Back Day or want to find a location near you, you can visit the FDA’s Take Back Day website.

 

 

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Newly Diagnosed: What Does It Mean?

Being diagnosed with HIV means that you were exposed to the HIV virus and that you’re living with it in your body, according to the CDC. The human body can’t completely get rid of the HIV virus like it can with some other viruses. While treatment is available and important, once you’re diagnosed with HIV, you have it for life.

Like we just mentioned, it’s very important that anyone diagnosed with HIV starts medical care as soon as possible. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy, or ART for short.  Taking medicine as prescribed can lower your viral load. When the load is very low, it’s called viral suppression, which means that you have less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood. Proper medication can also make your viral load so low that a test can no longer detect it. When this happens it’s called undetectable viral load. Achieving and maintaining an undetectable viral load is one of the top things you can do to stay as healthy as possible. In fact, if you consistently maintain an undetectable viral load, the risk of transmitting HIV to a partner becomes almost non-existent.

Now, what happens if someone diagnosed with HIV doesn’t get medical care? Without treatment, HIV will attack the immune system and they will then develop AIDS. When this happens, it allows for different types of life-threatening infections and cancers to develop, which can lead to death. A cure for HIV still does not exist, but proper medical care and treatment with medicine can keep people living with HIV healthy for many, many years and help reduce their risk of transmitting the virus to other people.

HIV Diagnoses and Prevention Among Older Americans

Nearly half of those in the U.S living with diagnosed HIV are aged 50 and older, according to the CDC. Older generations are more likely than younger generations to have late-stage HIV infection at the time of diagnosis. This means that treatment occurs later and they can possibly suffer more damage to their immune systems.

There are many possible reasons why late diagnoses occur. One reason could be that health care providers might not be testing older people for HIV infection. Another common reason is that some older people may not consider themselves at risk of infection, or they may even mistake HIV symptoms for those of the normal aging process. The CDC reports that among people aged 55 and older who received an HIV diagnosis in 2015, 50% have had HIV for four and a half years before receiving an official diagnosis. That is the longest delay for any age group in their study.

Older people typically have most of the same risk factors as younger people, including a lack of knowledge about HIV prevention and sexual risk, including having multiple partners. Older people however, face some unique issues.

  • Women that longer worry about preventing pregnant can be less likely to use condoms or other methods of practicing safer sex. Additionally, age-related thinning and dryness of vaginal tissue also may raise the risk for HIV in older women.
  • Although it’s common for older people to visit doctors more frequently than younger people, they are less likely to discuss their sexual or drug use behaviors.

Aging with HIV also presents additional challenges for preventing other diseases. Age and HIV both increase a person’s risk for health conditions like cardiovascular disease, bone loss, or even certain cancers. Older HIV patients and their health care providers need to make sure they keep an eye out for early signs of illness. Mindfulness about medical interactions between those used to treat HIV and common age-related conditions (hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, obesity, etc.) is also extremely important.