Seeing HIV in positive light boosts patients' mental health

November 01, 2003

Seeing HIV in a more positive light -- as a challenge rather than a threat, for instance -- is associated with greater psychological well-being and lower levels of depression among patients, new research suggests.

Other factors, like social support and the ability to cope with problems, also contribute to an HIV patient's overall mental health, say Eugene W. Farber, Ph.D., of Emory University School of Medicine and colleagues.

But a patient's beliefs about the disease seem to affect psychological well-being above and beyond these other factors, the researchers conclude.

Patients may find it easier to cope with their disease if they see it as an "opportunity for personal growth" or can attach some other positive meaning to it, the researchers say. Their findings are published in the November issue of Psychosomatics.

"Psychotherapists can help their patients explore the personal significance and effects of HIV/AIDS and encourage ... realities that allow for pursuit of realistic options and choices within the acknowledged limits imposed by the disease," Farber says.

Patients' perceptions of their disease might also affect how well they stick to a medication schedule or avoid risky behaviors related to HIV infection, they add.

Farber and colleagues surveyed 203 mostly low-income people with HIV who were being treated at an urban outpatient clinic. The patients were asked about their strategies for coping with health difficulties, their general psychological well-being, their feelings about their illness and any support they received from others.

More than 73 percent of the patients were clinically depressed, which may "reflect the considerable emotional burden that presumably is associated with the simultaneous challenges of living with HIV/AIDS and managing the psychosocial stresses associated with poverty," the researchers say.
The study was supported by the Emory Medical Care Foundation.

Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or
Interviews: Contact Eugene Farber at 404-616-6862 or
Psychosomatics: Contact Tom Wise, M.D., at 703-698-3626.


Center for Advancing Health

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