The Connection Between HIV and Mental Health in the Older Adult

The Connection Between HIV and Mental Health in the Older Adult

How living with HIV can affect your mental health

Created With Support

Medically reviewed by Dr. Sharon D. Allison-Ottey

infographic: click to view the pdf

Good Mental Health Is Essential to Living Well With HIV

Living with HIV can result in negative feelings or thoughts. In a national sample of HIV-positive adults:

-        Nearly 2 out of 3 people said that it is difficult to tell people about their HIV status

-        1 out of 3 people reported feeling guilty or ashamed of their HIV status

-        Nearly 1 in 4 people said their HIV status makes them feel dirty or worthless

Mental Health Issues 

Aging with HIV not only affects physical health but also can have major mental health effects, including increased rates of: 

  • Depression and anxiety, which often go undiagnosed and untreated

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — 30% of women living with HIV experience PTSD

  • Grief from losing friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS and from being rejected by family or friends because of their HIV status

Discrimination is a key barrier to accessing care. In a recent national study, people aging with HIV experienced stigma (28%), homophobia (19%), ageism (17%) and racism (10%) when accessing care.

Stigma Is a Problem

It’s common for older people with HIV to feel stigma, which has a negative effect on a person’s quality of life and self-image. 

Stigma may lead to:

·       Avoiding healthcare or support services

·       Not taking medicine because of the need for secrecy

·       Not disclosing their HIV status

·       Living in denial about their HIV status 

·       Experiencing social isolation and loneliness

Older adults living with HIV may experience extra stigma because they are labeled by both age and HIV status.

Reach out to get the care and support you need

-       Find a counselor or therapist to help you deal with any negative feelings about your HIV status

-       Join support groups to connect with other people living with HIV

-       Start treatment as early as possible and take medicine as prescribed to keep you (and your partner) healthy

This educational resource was created with support from Merck.


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