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Mental And Emotional Health Of Children Infected With HIV

It's unfortunate but anyone can get infected with HIV even children. HIV can have a great mental and emotional impact on a child. To help understand how children get HIV, what type of mental and emotional impact HIV has on a child and how a child can cope with HIV, I have interviewed psychotherapist Cindy Kim.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. "I am a psychotherapist in private practice in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC. I see adolescents, Adults, and couples who are dealing with a wide range of problems including marital issues, depression, anxiety, and family stress. I received my master's in clinical social work from Columbia University. Prior to the private practice, I worked as an adult HIV case manager at Georgetown Hospital and was the Clinical Director of mental health services at a small community-based non-profit that provided mental health services to children and families infected and/or affected by HIV."

How do children get HIV? "Children may be infected with HIV by mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, breastfeeding from an HIV positive woman, blood transfusion with infected blood, sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, and oral) with an HIV positive partner and injecting needles that were previously used by an HIV positive person (can include illegal drugs, tattoos, and insulin for diabetes). Infection by blood transfusion and tattoos are virtually nonexistent in most developed countries due to strict guidelines that seek to prevent transmission of the virus."

What type of a mental and emotional impact does HIV have on a child? "A child who is HIV positive has to cope not only with his or her own uncertainty of their future health but also their parents' anxiety. The stigma associated with HIV makes it extremely difficult for the child and their family to be open about the illness to relatives, friends, and loved ones. In fact, in many cases, the child him or herself may not be aware of their own diagnosis. As a therapist and social worker, I met many mothers who were concerned their child would let it slip that they were HIV positive or that someone in their family was HIV positive to teachers, school friends, or fellow church goers. The burden of holding such a painful secret follows the child through each of their milestones particularly as they enter adolescence and the world of Dating and the inevitable questions of sexual intercourse. It's not uncommon for HIV positive youth to be dealing with depression, suicide, anger, and self-imposed isolation."

How can a child with HIV cope with their condition? "First, parents or guardians can create an environment that actively refutes the stigma of HIV, whether or not the child is aware of his or her diagnosis. When the parent feels the child is old enough to have good judgment regarding disclosure of the diagnosis to others, it is important to very sensitively and carefully explain the HIV status to the child and allow the child to ask any and all questions he or she might have particularly surrounding the concept of mortality. Make it clear to the child who he or she can turn to for support and make certain these individuals are prepared and able to answer tough questions. Families may find that there are support groups for HIV positive children and their HIV negative siblings at their hospital or clinic, which can provide an outlet for youth to talk with peers who have a unique understanding of one another. There are also many summer sleep-away camps that have medical facilities on site to care for children with illnesses, allowing these kids to have a typical summer camp experience that they may not have been allowed to have otherwise. It's important for the child to be given opportunities to be a kid, first and foremost."

What type of professional help is available for a child infected with HIV? "Unfortunately, the answer to this question is somewhat dependent on the personal financial resources of the family. For youth who can afford it, they can certainly seek out a psychotherapist who can be a non-judgmental sounding board, someone who the child doesn't have to worry about worrying. Therapy can help the child to develop strong, positive coping mechanisms and encourage self-esteem even in the face of societal stigma. However, youth with limited resources may not be able to access mental health services so readily. Particularly now, when public and foundation funding is moving more and more towards prevention and away from direct services. It is becoming more difficult to find qualified professionals in non-profits who provide free or low-cost mental health care. Moreover, health departments often pay more attention to the mental health needs of Adults over children, again, limiting the resources available to HIV positive youth."

Thank you Cindy for doing the interview on the mental and emotional health of children infected with HIV. For more information on Cindy Kim or her work you can check out her website on www.cindykimtherapy.com.

Recommended Readings: How to Live Life with AIDS How to Cope with a Life Threatening Illness How to Recover From a Loss of a Loved One

By Jaleh - JALEH holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Masters of Science in Marriage and Family Counseling. She is the book author of Making Marriage a Success and Life's Little How to Book which can be...  

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