In her doctoral thesis, Prof Rita Thom, a professor in the Division of Psychiatry at the University of the Witwatersrand, investigated the relationship between HIV and Depression.
‘Once the HI virus has entered the body, it affects deep structures in the brain that include the emotional areas and can result in depressive illness. As HIV causes dementia, it can cause a psychotic illness. Then, there’s the stress of having a serious illness and the associated stigma. So, there is a lot of psychosocial stress’, said Prof. Thom.
She added that there are bio-chemical changes that occur in the brain, as a result of the damage to the neurotransmitters. ‘Those change with the depressive illness. It (HIV) can cause a mood disorder’, said Prof. Thom.
Depression is a major concern not only to HIV-positive people, but also to those who are HIV-negative, according to Raakhee Singh, a Clinical Psychologist at Carstonhof Clinic in Midrand, Johannesburg.
‘A person that is depressed would generally focus less. You probably would engage in sexual behavior and therefore not take on the protection factors in terms of HIV’, said the Psychologist.
Experts say getting treatment at the early stages of Depression is crucial, especially if the patient is HIV-infected. ‘It’s absolutely essential’, Prof. Thom said, adding that, ‘the evidence is clear that if you don’t treat someone with a depressive illness, that has serious implications, not only in terms of the quality of life, but actually in terms of their adherence to HIV treatment and disease progression’.