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Depression can be successfully treated so don’t delay asking for help.

What are the symptoms of depression?

If you experience most or all of these symptoms on a daily basis for several weeks you may be depressed:

  • low mood
  • apathy
  • poor concentration
  • irritability
  • insomnia
  • early waking or oversleeping
  • inability to relax
  • physical effects such as weight gain or weight loss
  • tiredness and lethargy
  • loss of pleasure in your usual activities
  • feelings of low self-worth
  • excessive guilt
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • loss of sexual interest
  • social isolation.

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health problem and it can have a serious impact on your ability to function in everyday life.

It is estimated that one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem during the course of a year. In the UK, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems.

Some people describe depression as ‘paralysing’ and it can stop them enjoying the company of their loved ones or going to work.

Depression affects both children and adults. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are at a higher risk, as they often experience bullying at school, discrimination and homophobia.

If left untreated, depression can lead to self harm and suicidal thoughts.

Is depression more common among people with HIV?

Although anyone can suffer from depression, it is twice as common among people who are HIV positive. Around one in three people living with HIV have some symptoms of depression at some point in their lives.

Despite these figures, depression is not an inevitable aspect of HIV infection but it could be triggered if you feel anxious or uncertain about your future.

People from African communities who are living with HIV can experience stigma and concerns about being open about their HIV status.

If you are a refugee or asylum seeker you may also be dealing with the effects of trauma, abuse and homelessness as well as the stress of going through the immigration process.

It is possible that you could suffer from depression without realising it.

What should I do if I think I might have depression?

Mental health professionals with experience in helping HIV positive clients are the best people to talk to about how to tackle depression. Some areas may not have a specialised service but your HIV clinic should be able to refer you to a mental health team in your area.

Depression is often treated with counselling or psychotherapy, sometimes alongside antidepressant medication. There are some things that you can try to change about your lifestyle to help you deal with depression.

Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to understand the underlying issues and make longer-term changes. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is used to help you identify negative patterns of thoughts and make behaviour changes.

Side effects of antidepressant medication should be monitored carefully to ensure that your HIV treatment is not affected, but most prescribed drugs have few interactions with regular medication.

Most importantly, ask for help when you need it. Depression is becoming more treatable all the time.

And the good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people can make a full recovery.

HIV treatment, recreational drugs and depression

Some HIV drugs can push levels of ecstasy (E), ketamine (K), speed, GHB and crystal meth to life-threatening levels. The comedowns after using those stimulants - as well as alcohol use - can increase depression and anxiety.

Help with depression:

In a crisis:

  • If you are feeling suicidal please try to let someone know: a partner, friends, family or a healthcare professional.
  • You can also attend an A&E department at a hospital at any time of the day or night.
  • Call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Calls to this helpline number do not appear on phone bills. If you don’t want to call, you can also email them at: jo@samaritans.org.
  • You can also call NHS on 111.

Other useful links and organisations:

Read our counsellors' tips for dealing with depression ›› 



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 30/11/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 30/11/2018

Content Author: Anthony Clarke & Kathy Osborne

Current Owner: Counselling

More information:

Mental health statistics, Mental Health Foundation

Common mental health problems, Mental Health Foundation

Clinical depression, NHS Choices, 19/8/14

Bartlett, J.G. & Finkbeiner, A.K. (2006) The Guide to Living with HIV Infection. The John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London

Department of Health and Human Services (2002) Depression and HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Mental Health. 

Depression, NAMLife

Top four needs of people with HIV in the UK all related to mental health, NAM (2009)

Mental health and growing up, Royal College of Psychiatrists (2009)

Statistics on mental health, Mental Health Foundation (2006)

Serious depression may affect one quarter of people with HIV, HIV Treatment Alerts (2010)

Depression in Patients With HIV Is Under-Diagnosed: A Cross-Sectional Study in Denmark, The Body (2010)



NHS Choices: Living with depression

Depression in Patients With HIV Is Under-Diagnosed: A Cross-Sectional Study in Denmark HIV Treatment Alerts (2010)