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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is an infection that weakens the body’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to other infections and diseases. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV. Individuals with HIV/AIDS can experience a range of mental health concerns as they face the realities of a debilitating and long-term illness.

Receiving an HIV/AIDS diagnosis can cause emotional distress and may lead to depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbances. Substance abuse is also common among those with an HIV infection.  As the disease progresses, HIV can infect the subcortical region of the brain, leading to deficits in cognitive and motor functioning. Some antiretroviral medications may also affect cognition. Cognitive disorders related to HIV include the following:

  • HIV-associated dementia – characterized by progressive cognitive decline, motor dysfunction, and behavioral abnormalities
  • Delirium – caused by infection or interactions of medications taken by HIV patients
  • New-onset psychosis and mania – associated with cognitive motor impairment, tends to present at later stages of HIV disease

Symptoms of an HIV-related cognitive disorder may include forgetfulness, confusion, inattentiveness, slurred or altered speech, sudden shifts in mood or behavior, difficulty walking, muscle weakness, slowed thinking, and difficulty finding words.

New anti-HIV therapies can be safely combined with psychiatric medications to reverse delirium and dementia and improve cognition. Psychotherapy can help patients come to terms with their illness and adapt to a diminished level of functioning.

Books on HIV/AIDS

American Psychiatric Publishing (APPI), a division of the American Psychiatric Association, publishes books on how to diagnose and treat the mental health challenges associated with HIV/AIDS.

American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with HIV/AIDSAmerican Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with HIV/AIDS provides treatment recommendations for patients with HIV/AIDS based on current knowledge and clinical practice.
Therapists on the Front LineTherapists on the Front Line explores how the AIDS epidemic has affected psychotherapists, their patients, and the therapeutic relationship.
Let’s Talk Facts About Psychiatric Dimensions of HIV/AIDS

Let’s Talk Facts About Psychiatric Dimensions of HIV/AIDS brochure provides answers to commonly asked questions about mental health concerns related to HIV/AIDS and their treatments.

View a complete listing of resources related to HIV/AIDS.