HIV and mental health

Physical and mental well-being go hand in hand. Anyone who is HIV-positive should therefore take care of their mental health.

Man thoughtful

HIV and depression

One in five people in Switzerland will suffer depression at some point in their lives. Those who are chronically ill – including people with HIV – are at particular risk.

Depression is much more than feeling low for a while. It lasts much longer, and can negatively impact on life in a whole variety of ways, such as at work, or in a relationship. That doesn't have to be the case, however, as there are plenty of good treatment options available nowadays. The first and most important step out of depression is therefore to recognise it in the first place. That's the only way to get professional help and to address the problem directly.

Key factors that can result in a mental health crisis among those living with HIV are:

  • Getting a positive test result
  • Fear of rejection, stigma and exclusion
  • Beginning antiretroviral therapy
  • Therapy side-effects
  • Having to switch therapy

If you have been feeling low and apathetic for some time, you may be suffering from depression. Our self-test entitled "Depression or just low?" will show whether or not you need to visit a specialist to look into things more closely.

When anxiety dominates everyday life

People living with HIV may suffer from anxiety. In fact, it's perfectly normal: anxiety about social or professional exclusion, anxiety about the long-term effects of the drugs, about contracting other infections, or anxiety about infecting a partner. But when certain anxieties become so overwhelming that they dominate every aspect of the person's life, the situation has gone too far.

A person has an anxiety disorder if their anxieties:

  • Appear when there is no real threat, or continue to last when the original danger is no longer there
  • Occur too frequently, for too long, and are disproportionately great
  • Are associated with physical complaints
  • Are uncontrollable
  • Involve anxiety about the anxiety itself
  • Lead to the person avoiding certain situations that do not actually carry any risk
  • Are associated with great psychological stress.

If you are worried that your mental health is suffering, go to see an expert such as your family doctor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist.

Pro Mente Sana
Anonymous telephone advice
Tel. 0848 800 858
Mon, Tue, Thurs 9–12, Thurs 14–

Die Dargebotene Hand (the Samaritans)
Anonymous telephone support in a crisis
Tel. 143

Queer-talk (advice and psychotherapy)
Checkpoint Zurich for gay men
Tel. 079 933 41

The regional AIDS support organisations can also provide a list of psychotherapists.

Note for migrants: consult the directory of foreign language-speaking psychotherapists. Major cities have mental health support available specifically for migrants, generally at psychiatric clinics. They offer interpreters who are bound by the duty of confidentiality.

In an emergency: if you can't reach your family doctor, contact the emergency medical services or outpatient psychiatric services, such as the Externer Psychiatrischer Dienst, the Krisenzentrum, or the Psychatrische Poliklinik.

Your health insurance will cover only certain psychotherapeutic treatments. Go through the cost aspects with your therapist carefully at your first session. More information can be found