HIV and the Church

Did you know that Saddleback Church has seven Signature Ministries? These are the unique causes Saddleback champions and hopes to empower other churches throughout the world to do the same. Our HIV&AIDS Initiative is one such Signature Ministry that is advocating for the church to be a source of community and hope for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS around the world. Saddleback’s newest signature ministry, Hope for Mental Health, exists to say that your chemistry is not your character and that your illness is not your identity. Because people living with HIV/AIDS are often at heightened risk of experiencing mental health struggles, we recognize that these two health issues are inextricably tied.


In anticipation of this month’s Hope Rising event on May 19th for people living with mental health struggles, here’s a bit more about how these two health issues are connected:


The relationship of mental illness and HIV/AIDS can manifest in many different ways as good mental health is found in the balance of three core dimensions- emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing. At the onset of diagnosis, reconciling the news of a life-altering condition can lead to mental health struggles that act in tandem with their other diagnoses. In fact, people living with HIV are twice as likely to have depression compared to those who are uninfected (NIMH, 2016). Medical advances in HIV/AIDS treatment have improved to a point where HIV can now be a chronic, yet manageable, condition that is not immediately fatal, the responsibilities of care to remain healthy can prove to be burdensome.


The initiation of antiretroviral treatment for HIV can ease anxieties present with a life-altering diagnosis and offer a sense of wellbeing as one takes active steps to ensure their long-term health. However, the taxing medication regimen required to achieve viral suppression and remain healthy can trigger other fears and anxiety. Mental health struggles can make it harder for you to take your medication on time and correctly as well as maintaining necessary health appointments (, 2014). Additionally, some antiretroviral mediations may exacerbate existing mental health problems, or may have symptoms including sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety (NIMH, 2016). Suffice to say, the relationship between the clinical need of antiretroviral therapies for a person diagnosed with HIV with potential mental health repercussions is a complicated dynamic. Those experiencing a dual-diagnosis of HIV/AIDS and a mental health condition are advised to consult their medical provider for guidance on the best course of simultaneous treatment to address both concerns.


A person living with HIV/AIDS might also experience mental health problems due to how the virus and related opportunistic infections can affect one’s brain and nervous system. Because the HIV virus resides and replicates in the body, it can physically alter the neurochemistry of someone living with HIV/AIDS. Common mental side effects concurrent with living with HIV include problems in memory, faulty thinking, and behavioral change (AIDSinfo, 2017). As stated above, some of these mental health related side effects can also be connected with the usage of antiretroviral medication. As these ARVs can help lengthen the life of a person living with HIV, cognitive changes often associated with the aging brain, such as dementia, are also increasingly observed among those of advanced age living with HIV (NIMH, 2016).


Regardless of your diagnosis, stigma can be dispelled and community can be found in the local church. Participation in a support group can be an opportunity to engage with other people who can relate to your unique experience and can offer encouragement in the midst of trying circumstances. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Wholistic care for people living with HIV/AIDS should include opportunities to maintain good emotional, social and psychological health as they pursue total mental health.


If you are living with HIV and/or a mental illness, check out for information on how you can get connected to a caring support group or call us at 949-609-8555. We are better together! 

Read more:

Mental Health.,

HIV and Mental Health. AIDSinfo,

HIV/AIDS and Mental Health. National Institutes of Mental Health,

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