HIV in Canada: A primer for service providers

Mental Health

Key Points

  • Mental health conditions are risk factors for HIV transmission.
  • Mental health conditions may affect health outcomes of people living with HIV.

Mental health issues are closely linked with HIV. Mental health conditions have been shown to increase the risk of getting HIV. For example, it is estimated that an estimated 0.2% of Canadians overall were living with HIV in 2014, while studies show between 5% and 23% of people with chronic mental illness have HIV. The risk of HIV transmission is higher in people with mental health conditions primarily because they are more likely to engage in high-risk activities related to sex and drug use.

People living with HIV are also impacted by mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety. These can result from the diagnosis of HIV and dealing with a complex and stigmatized disease. HIV itself can also produce psychological impacts due to its effects on the central nervous system. Complications can include depression, mania, dementia and others.

Mental health issues among people living with HIV can negatively impact their health outcomes. For example, mental health issues can affect their ability to find and be retained in care, and decrease their ability to remain adherent to HIV treatment once they start it.

Living with HIV can make managing issues of mental health, such as depression and anxiety, more challenging. People living with HIV should be screened for depression and anxiety.


HIV and emotional wellness

CAMH – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Canadian Mental Health Association


  1. World Health Organization. HIV/AIDS and mental health, WHO, Geneva, 20 November 2008. Available from:
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. Summary: Estimates of HIV Incidence, Prevalence and Proportion Undiagnosed in Canada, 2014. Surveillance and Epidemiology Division, Professional Guidelines and Public Health Practice Division, Centre for Communicable Diseases and Infection Control, Public Health