Health & Fitness

HIV/AIDS: Hope and opportunity now shines through  darkness 

Florida ranks the highest in new HIV cases in the United States. Fortunately, HIV medication known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) can be very effective. In fact, most people in the U.S. who started ART after 2008 now have a life expectancy at age 20 to live to age 78 — the same as all men overall. 

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Dr. Maria Echenique is assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and program director of the Ryan White Psychiatry Program at the Center for Behavioral Medicine, University of Miami Health System.

Given the life-saving effectiveness of ART, the treatment focus of HIV has shifted to “long-range” health, including support of emotional well-being and quality of life. This is because the presence of mental health disorders, like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or addiction, can directly interfere with an HIV-positive person’s ability to take their medications daily — the main factor that has helped HIV shift from a deadly disease to a treatable, lifelong condition.

Recent studies show that more than half of those living with HIV experience depression. Also, people with HIV are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts as those without it. The degree to which an HIV-positive person views themselves negatively because of their HIV status, or perceives that others have a negative attitude because of their HIV status, is strongly associated with depression and feelings of suicide.

However, critical mental health support is available for low-income people who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

The Ryan White program assists with HIV/AIDS services including but not limited to medical care, medications and mental health treatment services (http://hrld.us/2Dzn5TI). There are many Ryan White medical case management agencies available to help access life-saving services. The first step is to enroll in the Ryan White program. You can also visit http://hrld.us/2mGteWJ or call 305-445-1076 for more information.

The second step that takes place is referral to medical and mental health experts who can help you or your family “fight the disease.” The Healing Place, a specialty mental health clinic for children and adults, exists solely to provide coordinated mental health and other medical treatment. Treatment is individualized to the needs of each person, in order to improve quality of life, relieve suffering from stigma, and help solve real-world problems.

This specialty mental health clinic is on the first floor of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Hospital, and offers individual counseling or group therapy, medications and memory interventions as needed. If you need help, call us today at 305-585-8255.

Dr. Maria Echenique is assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and program director of the Ryan White Psychiatry Program at the Center for Behavioral Medicine, University of Miami Health System. Jeleine Fertil, M.P.H., provides care at the South Florida AIDS Network at UM/Jackson Memorial Hospital.

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