HIV sufferers to receive mental counseling

HIV sufferers will receive psychological counseling as part of their treatment, a top health specialist said, as China continues to work toward a comprehensive intervention and care system.

No specific time has been given for when mental health will be integrated into the treatment.

The National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention is setting up a new department specializing in psychology and social intervention, said the director Wu Zunyou.

"As the fight against AIDS deepens, various specialties like mental health and sociology have to be employed to help contain the epidemic and improve treatment," he said.

In 2011, government figures estimated 780,000 Chinese people on the mainland were infected with HIV.

A new initiative offering counseling will be tested in Hubei and Henan provinces, mainly targeting HIV and AIDS sufferers aged 10 to 15, said Zhao Yan, deputy director of the center’s AIDS treatment and care division.

Most young people contract the virus through mother-to-child transmission or blood transfusions, she said.

"This work is necessary, as we’ve seen a rise in mental health problems among young sufferers," said Xiao Jinsong, associate professor of psychology and neurology at Wuhan University and one of the designers of the pilot program.

Xiao said some infected children suffered from depression as they grew older and gained greater knowledge of their condition, and the social discrimination that comes with it.

"They are prone to developing twisted conceptions of themselves and others, and without timely and proper mental intervention might pose a challenge to social stability and security in later life," he said.

In response, Xiao said youngsters will be offered regular psychological consultations, face to face or by phone, and peer outreach and education sessions.

Last month, a man was pricked in the leg by a syringe left in the back of a Beijing taxi that was later found to contain HIV antibodies. Immediate preventive mediation managed to stop the infection, but there was speculation among the media and public over whether the incident was intentional.

Xiao said some AIDS patients with mental disorders have been found resorting to extreme behavior, such as suicide and intentionally spreading HIV.

Xiao said he led a survey in 2009 of 200 sufferers in Hubei, which found more than 85 percent of them said they struggled with various mental problems, including insomnia, anxiety and depression.

About 40 percent said they had received psychological treatment.

"The percentage might be higher than the national average, as they (the respondents) were largely infected through blood transfusions," the psychologist said.

He said people in this situation are more likely to develop serious mental problems and take revenge on society than those who contract the virus through sexual intercourse.

Xiao said adequate social support could help ease mental health issues faced by sufferers.

Zhao, at the National Center for AIDS and STD Control, said early detection can go a long way in preventing mental health problems. "Psychological intervention and care initiated early, particularly for young sufferers, can help ensure their drug compliance and avert the risks of developing serious mental health conditions," Zhao said.

"It benefits both the sufferers and the general public."

Xiao agreed, but conceded that China has been relatively late in undertaking such work and lacks psychologists specializing in HIV or AIDS.


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