HIV and Mental Health: ‘A Lot of Times, They're Just Tired and Worn Out’
Jannis Evans and Lynne Meyerkord both work in HIV advocacy. Jannis is the longtime advocate for people living with HIV and used to work in the field, and Lynne is the Executive Director at the AIDS Project of the Ozarks in Springfield.
I met up with them at the Jefferson City office of Empower Missouri.
They spoke about how the impacts and complications of an HIV diagnosis can go far beyond physical health.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Jannis Evans: Rejection and those kinds of things weigh heavy on your heart, and that's one of those things that I really struggle with because there's nothing that I can really do - and I'm a fixer - and there's nothing that I can really do except be there for them and listen and, you know, all of that.
And just to see that a person is struggling so badly with depression, and HIV gets pushed down your list of priorities. One woman said, "if my kid needs glasses, and I need meds, guess what's going to happen?" "If my electricity is about to be cut off, and I need meds, I'm going to go ahead on and try and pay this electric bill."
Or you end up getting involved in "transactional activities," which can put you at risk, you know. Maybe the only thing I feel at this point that I have to negotiate with is my body. So, now I'm having risky sex behaviors because I need to pay my electric bill. I need to pay my rent.
I don't know it's a... that's the ugly side of stuff too. Not being able to fix stuff for people that you see are struggling and they do the best that they can, and, you know, they're just haunted by this depression thing. So...
Lynne Meyerkord: Right. And I would think that HIV can really compound that, you know, I've been doing this long enough that I have friends with HIV that have been living with HIV since the early 80s, and they were fortunate enough to hold out with their health until the meds came along in the mid 90s that really make a difference for you.
A lot of times, they're just tired and worn out, and they've been involved in this fight - on a much more personal level than I have - for most of their lives. So I think, you know, you hear about long term survivor groups and that kind of thing, and that's, that can really be, I think, a source of depression.
I'll talk with folks who, you know, they had full blown AIDS back when we thought that they were going to be dead in two years. The meds came along, and then they had to completely readjust their outlook because they thought they were going to be dead in two years too.
And a lot of those folks experienced survivor guilt, you know. "Why? Why am I still alive when I've buried three loves of my life?" There's a lot of complications that I think people don't think about, and as life has improved so much for people with HIV because of the medication and services available, I think it's easy to forget those pieces and that depression and sadness and post-traumatic stress that they're dealing with is an ongoing issue.