'HIV diagnosis impacts mental health'

HARARE - Most people living with HIV suffer some form of mental illness from the shock of their diagnosis, director of mental health services in the Health and Child Care ministry Dorcas Sithole has said.

Sithole said the initial shock of knowing one’s status triggers a lot of emotions, with most getting anxious and depressed.
“If someone tests HIV positive, the first thing you will experience is a sad moment. That in itself; if not managed well by the body, will set the person into depression, which may require medication. There is a problem, however, that people tend to separate mental illness from other afflictions yet they are all the same and should be treated with the same importance,” Sithole said.

She said if not treated in its initial stages, depression may fester into suicidal thoughts.

Sithole said people should not wait until their illness has progressed.

“When people notice a lack of sleep, irregular eating patterns, withdrawal from society, they should not think that they are being bewitched. They must seek help before being institutionalised. Many people who are treated early do not need to be on medication for life,” she said.  
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) clinical psychologist Emmerson Gono said many factors can affect a person’s mental stability including ill-health.

“Psycho-social stressors like health complications are some of the major contributing factors to mental illness in Zimbabwe. People need activities that stimulate them as part of their treatment to mental illness,” Gono said.     

In May, government launched a five-year $103 million testing strategy to encourage people to know their status as a way of reducing the number of new infections.

The strategy — which is part of the 90-90-90 initiative — which seeks to achieve a target were 90 percent of all people with HIV know their status, 90 percent of those diagnosed are placed on anti-retroviral treatment and that 90 percent of those on treatment have the suppressed virus by 2020.

According to the 2016 national estimates, 1,3 million people are living with HIV with 86 000 of them being children.

Currently, the HIV prevalence rate is at an estimated 13,7 percent, with new infections having fallen by up to 50 percent in the last seven years.

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