Assessing mental trauma in the case of an HIV diagnosis
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HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is defined as a sexually transmitted infection. While sexual relations are its primary form of transmission, it can also be spread by blood or between generations during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. By weakening the immune system and the body’s capacity to fight off disease, a person will undergo an increasing risk of developing escalating illnesses. This then leads to the onset of AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition that was responsible for approximately 1.7 million deaths in 2011.

According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 50,000 new HIV infections documented each year. While mortality is still prevalent, there is also a lack of psychological investigation into how these conditions affect a person’s thoughts, feelings and actions. Although medical advances have improved treatment options and halt the disease’s progression, HIV still carries a great weight and more than 1.2 million people still live with it in the United States alone, which begs the question of how these afflicted populations cope with this jarring illness.

Multiple studies have observed the toll of an HIV diagnosis on a person’s life. In addition, many of these examples examined diverse demographics in order to paint a full picture of the condition’s effects. One 1999 study focused on women from the inner-city sector of New Orleans, Louisiana. Of this population of HIV-infected participants, an overwhelming 62.1 percent experienced at least one traumatic event while 35.3 percent met the full diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Along with this noticeable comorbidity, a significant difference is also noted in regards to the virus’ progression. The status of a person’s HIV is determined by a ratio between two types of T cells, CD4 and CD8. A lower ratio is associated with a poorer state of health and was examined in participants with higher occurrences of trauma and PTSD symptoms.

In a 2004 evaluation of individuals living with HIV, the study continued to highlight the comorbid nature of the virus and the onset of mental health disorders. Specifically, a substantial proportion of these people displayed symptoms of PTSD as well as a substance addiction. The coexistence of either or both of these conditions presented additional challenges and unfortunate outcomes due to negative health behaviors, low levels of adherence to antiretroviral medications or a steep drop in immune function.

A research endeavor in 2005 examined the populations in South Africa recently diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. With similar results, the study found that a subsection of the sample met the clinical requirements for PTSD. Furthermore, the data delved deeper to highlight the link between PTSD and other disorders. Major depressive disorder, suicidal ideation and social anxiety disorder were all highly prevalent, co-occurring conditions. Due to this train of associated ailments, participants with HIV and PTSD reported significantly more work impairment and demonstrated a trend towards higher usage of alcohol as a means of coping. An interesting discovery was that some people suffered from PTSD as a result from their HIV diagnosis, while others developed it before or after. No substantial differences existed between these HIV-related PTSD and PTSD caused by other factors.

In 2010, a study looked into a population of HIV-positive men in the United Kingdom. This research discovered that 33 percent of the surveyed population met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Three HIV-related events most strongly predicted developing PTSD. They were: experiencing physical symptoms, witnessing HIV-related death and, unexpectedly, receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. Though 55 percent of the survey respondents rated being diagnosed with HIV as a traumatic event, this was not correlated strongly with the development of PTSD, nor were feelings of shame or guilt over becoming HIV positive.

From these unique study examples, another important trend shines through. The interactions between HIV and PTSD are extremely varied. While the initial confrontation with the virus may not always be the triggering moment, different demographics are related to a host of possible, traumatic events. The relationship between these two afflictions also highlights the connection between the body and mind, as the psychological damage from a distressing event can contribute to the weakening immune system that HIV creates.

Sovereign Health of California is an organization that can assist with the pains of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders that arise from a burdened life. With the safety and security of our luxury residential facilities, peace and rest is possible. During a client’s stay, Sovereign staff can utilize a process called dual diagnosis to identify and address any other coexisting conditions one might have. If you or a loved one needs support, contact our helpline online or call (866) 819-0427.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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