Those infected with HIV could have experienced more hardships during the peak of the pandemic and could suffer more challenges with the lack of resources post-pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic created mental health challenges and psychological impacts on individuals worldwide. However, new study findings suggest that individuals infected with HIV were presented with an increased psychosocial challenges. The study, published in AIDS Research and Therapy, said the psychological challenges include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, loneliness, and others.
In a news release, the investigators confirmed that the researchers used results from a 2020 survey completed by 900 individuals residing in Washington, D.C that were diagnosed with HIV.
According to the news release, the survey asked the participants to rate the degree to which they experienced certain challenges during the height of the pandemic, such as financial instability, mental health, social connections, and substance use. These data were used to attest how different demographics faced psychosocial challenges and which group was the most exposed.
"D.C. was an important place to conduct this research, as it is both an HIV hotspot and was a COVID-19 hotspot during various points of the pandemic," said HIV expert and study co-author Michael Horberg, MD, in the press release.
The news release first focused on mental health challenges, showing that 77% of the participants reported to have struggled with their mental health during the pandemic. Additionally, 50% reported feeling anxious and 46% reported decreased quality of life.
“Over a third of participants reported at least 1 of the hallmark symptoms of depression, and half of respondents reported decreased social connections,” said the study authors in the news release.
Next, the news release focused on substance use, confirming that the researchers found an increase in alcohol consumption. However, participants whose HIV was controlled reported less of an increase. Men in general were more likely than women to report an increase in alcohol use.
The study then discussed financial strain, reporting that 55% experienced a financial burden during the pandemic and 34% had a decrease in household income.
“A large number of respondents (27%) reported difficulty getting food, and even more (29%) reported difficulty paying their rent or mortgage. Participants with more education were less likely to report financial impacts but were more likely to report mental health impacts,” the authors said in the news release.
Finally, the news release moved to older age and resiliency, reporting that older patients were less likely to face negative psychosocial challenges due to having more life experience, resources, stronger social connections, and resistance to alcohol and drugs.
"We found older patients were far more resilient compared to younger patients. I think this demonstrates the importance of being socially secure when trying to weather intense stressors like the pandemic," Horberg said in the press release.
According to the news release, as the pandemic and emergency procedures begin to decrease, the programs designed to provide support will end.
"People with HIV were already at an increased risk of psychosocial challenges, the pandemic only exacerbated these problems. When we remove emergency pandemic relief efforts, we are taking away potential lifelines. It shows we need to do a better job ensuring our vulnerable populations have access to the care they need, regardless of the pandemic," Horberg said in the press release.
The findings suggest that those infected with HIV experienced more hardships during the peak of the pandemic and will suffer more challenges with the lack of resources than those who do not have the virus.
HIV patients in DC reported intense distress during pandemic. News Release. EurekAlert!. June 29,2023. Accessed July 12, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/994239.