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, studies estimate that between 5% and 23% of people with chronic mental illness have HIV. This is substantially higher than the estimated 0.2% of Canadians living with HIV in 2011. 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 once they start HIV treatment.

Living with HIV can make managing issues of mental health, such as depression and anxiety, more challenging. Depression affects problem-solving skills and financial security and can contribute to increased risk-taking behaviours. Screening for depression and anxiety should be done by a healthcare professional at the time of HIV diagnosis and before starting treatment.


HIV and emotional wellness

CAMH – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Canadian Mental Health Association


HIV/AIDS and mental health, World Health Organization, Geneva, 20 November 2008. Available at: [accessed July19, 2016]