We think of women’s health issues in boxes (the diabetes box, the depression box, the hypertension box). But, in fact, our health concerns are more like a maze of rooms with doors that lead from one space to another. Take HIV. We think of it as a physical illness—and it is. But it also intersects with emotional health and personal relationships. Though drugs and treatment are allowing women (and men) to live physically healthier lives, some “side effects” of HIV are depression, anxiety, shame and stigma. And the side effects have side effects: because low self-esteem and relationships usually don’t mix, women with HIV may find themselves in codependent, violent or emotionally abusive relationships.
One CDC report indicates that HIV-infected women are twice as likely to experience intimate partner violence (IPV) as other women. Some of this may have to do with how a woman became infected in the first place. If she uses drugs or exchanges sex for money, she may be in a situation that puts her more at risk for both HIV and IPV. Once a woman is diagnosed, fear of losing her partner—or being unwanted by another one—may be why she justifies staying in an abusive relationship.
The challenging complexity of dealing with the physical and emotional impact of an HIV diagnosis is one reason that we at the Black Women’s Health Imperative and other health advocacy groups suggest psychological counseling should be part of HIV care. The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Services Locator, found at AIDS.gov, can help you find the nearest mental health provider who specializes in HIV/AIDS concerns.
This story is from our publication IndexUS: What Healthy Black Women Can Teach Us About Health, which will be released in November.