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High Prevalence Of Mental Problems In HIV/AIDS Patients

06 January 2012
By Mihika Basu
Mumbai India

While there is a very high prevalence of mental health disorders among HIV/AIDS patients in India and it is estimated that up to 73 per cent would develop at least one psychiatric disorder, there is complete lack of recognition of this problem and subsequently no mitigation measures, says a preliminary study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Further, owing to the mental problems, patients are less responsive to treatments.

Accordingly, TISS is in the process of conducting a detailed national study to assess the prevailing HIV/AIDS related psycho–social burden and its impact on the mental health of patients and accordingly recommend effective social and behavioural intervention strategies to the government.

“Very little is known about the mental problems and subsequent needs of people living with HIV/AIDS in countries like India, which are most affected by the epidemic. Mental health problems have an entwined association with HIV/AIDS and the most common mental disorders include depression, anxiety disorder, suicidal intent/attempts, adjustment disorder, alcohol dependence and psychotic disorders. It’s estimated that 38 to 73 per cent of HIV/AIDS patients would develop no less than one psychiatric disorder in their lifetime. Hence, the need to address their mental health needs,” said TISS professor Shankar Das, who is undertaking the government–funded study.

“It is crucial for such patients to have easy access to mental health facilities to promote their health and well–being and to prevent secondary transmission. But despite the fact that mental health disorders are directly linked with HIV/AIDS, very little attention has been paid to this association. Data in India is not sufficient to either advocate or provide the services necessary to meet the growing mental health needs of HIV/AIDS patients,” indicated their paper published by AIDS Care (see box).

It said the majority of patients do not receive needed treatments or services and mental health providers lack sufficient expertise to diagnose and treat symptoms of mental health needs. Further, the paper indicates that untreated mental illness leads to poorer quality of life, poorer prognosis and greater stress on family and caretakers. Lack of sensitivity, inadequate counselling and psychiatric services and trained personnel are current barriers, it concluded.

“Mental health component must be incorporated within HIV/AIDS programmes in India, which could bring about a great improvement in patients’ health. We plan to identify programmes and policies that address the needs of mental health of HIV/AIDS patients. It could include ways to address stigma/discrimination, psychological support to patients and their family, specific counselling and psychiatric interventions needed,” said Das.

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