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World AIDS Day 2020

World AIDS Day 2020 provides people around the world with an opportunity to show support for those living with HIV.

While 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, COVID-19 has been exceptionally hard for this community, with lockdown restrictions having a major impact.

How the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people living with HIV

Many people living with HIV have felt concerned and anxious regarding COVID-19, and as a result, have been more likely to stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact.

Support with housing and employment has become harder to obtain, with an end to routine face-to-face consultations. Access to services like social support, yoga classes, training, benefits advice, financial advice, meals, and psychological support in person has also been affected.

Isolation, loneliness and mental health

For some people living with HIV, the face-to-face support that they usually receive is often vital for providing human contact and breaking patterns of loneliness.

As human beings, we rely on positive interactions with others and social bonds to regulate our physical and mental states. When we experience loneliness and isolation, this can trigger a stress response in our body.

Loneliness is a risk factor for mental health problems including anxiety and depression, dementia, psychosis and suicide.

Those with HIV can often be more prone to isolation and loneliness, with HIV remaining, unjustly, a highly stigmatised condition. For some people, they become so worried by this perceived stigma or experiences of discrimination that they withdraw from society. This can especially be the case for those living with HIV who are already from marginalised groups, such as refugees and the LGBTQ+ community.

Supporting people who live with HIV

The purpose of World AIDS Day is to unite in support of people who live with HIV. With this in mind, there are steps we can all take to help people who are in this situation:

  • Social contact by telephone or video apps can be beneficial for breaking the cycle of isolation
  • Any face-to-face meetings that are possible within the restrictions are encouraged
  • More services are now available than during the first wave of the pandemic. The best way to find out about them is to contact your GP or local HIV team
  • Health services are providing psychological therapies by phone. Contact either your local HIV service or HIV charity to see if they offer this
  • Mental health problems related to HIV are common, but are still very treatable. For anyone who feels that they need support, we would encourage you to reach out and seek help from your GP

Blog reviewed by Dr Nick Walsh (MBChB, Bsc (Hons), CCT in General Adult Psychiatry, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Fenchurch Street

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