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Hep C, Depression, and Anxiety: How to Take Care of Your Mental Health

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on September 09, 2019

If you have the hepatitis C virus (HCV), you know it’s crucial to take care of your liver. HCV is a serious condition that can lead to long-term health problems. What you may not realize is the impact it can have on your state of mind.

What’s the Link?

Around 2% of Americans have HCV, but it’s nine times more common if you have a mental health problem like depression or anxiety. Mental illness can alter your judgment. This may lead you to do things that make you more likely to get HCV, like using drugs and sharing needles to do it, or having unsafe sex.

As many as half of people living with HCV are also depressed. The stigma around this condition could be to blame. Because it’s closely linked to drug use, you may feel like you’re being judged. Other people who don’t know much about HCV may keep their distance, worried they’ll get sick too. As a result, you might feel ashamed and embarrassed.

If you’re out of work, use drugs, or don’t have a strong support system, you’re more likely to get depressed. Some common treatments for HCV, like interferon, can also cause a drastic drop in your mood.

How Manage Your Feelings

To help keep your anxiety and depression in check:

Look past your label. You’re living with HCV, but it doesn’t have to define you. Make a list of all the other roles you have, like parent, partner, or friend. That will help remind you that there’s more to you than this illness.

Stop drinking alcohol and using drugs. These habits will cause serious damage to your liver. They can also make depression and anxiety worse. Practice ways to say no, and stay away from people who pressure you to partake.

Put your partner first. If you’re in a long-term relationship with one person, the risk that you’ll pass HCV to them during sex is low. Still, some drugs you’re treated with can raise virus levels in your body. Talk to your doctor about safety steps you should take, then share them with your partner before you’re in the bedroom.

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Practice safe sex. Latex condoms are the best way to prevent passing on HCV during sex. You’ll need to use them before sex with a new partner. Choose only water-based lubricants. Oil-based products can damage condoms. Don’t brush or floss your teeth right before deep kisses or oral sex. It could make your gums bleed and raise your chances of infection.

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Manage your worries. Get enough sleep and eat healthy food. It takes a lot of energy to keep tension in check. Work out when you can too. Exercise is a way to keep stress in check.

Be patient. Loved ones may be upset to hear you have HCV. If so, talking to a counselor may help you and your loved ones through this tough time.

Signs That You Need Help

Your doctor will check you for depression at each visit. Still, you should also know the signals that what you’re feeling is more than just the blues:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Thoughts of death
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble with focus
  • Sleeping problems

If you have these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, let your doctor know. Talk therapy, antidepressants, or a mix of both can help. You may also feel less anxious or sad if you join a support group for people with HCV and learn how others live with the disease. Your doctor can help you find a local group or one that meets online.

Talking About HCV

Hepatitis C is a disease that infects all sorts of people, but many struggle to admit they have it. Opening up about your illness will feel scary at first, but when you have HCV, you need more support, not less.

Of course, whom you tell about your hepatitis C is up to you, but some people who really should know. You should tell your family, your spouse, your sexual partners, and anyone else who might have caught the disease from you. The chances are small that any of these people have hepatitis C, but it's important that they know so that they can be tested and treated if necessary. It’s a good idea to talk to a counselor or other people who are living with HCV. They can help you figure out what to say and when to say it.

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Telling others you have hepatitis C isn't only for their benefit. It's for your benefit too. You need the support of family and possibly some close friends to help you better cope with your illness.

To make things easier and reduce the risks of misunderstanding, prepare for the conversation before you sit down to talk. Explain that:

  • Hepatitis C progresses slowly and may not cause symptoms for decades, if ever.
  • Hepatitis C is a manageable disease. If you ever do get symptoms, treatment may help.
  • Hepatitis C is difficult to pass on to someone else, so the risk of transmission within a family is very low.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Hepatitis C FAQS for the Public.”

The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Psychiatric Care of the Patient with Hepatitis C: A Review of the Literature.”

General Hospital Psychiatry: “Depression and anxiety in patients with hepatitis C: prevalence, detection rates and risk factors.”

HepatitisC.Net: “Recognizing depression and getting treatment.”

HCV Advocate: “A Guide To: Stigma and Hepatitis C,” “HCSP Fact Sheet: Depression.”

Annals of Gastroenterology: “Depression and suicide ideation in chronic hepatitis C patients treated and untreated with interferon: prevalence, prevention and treatment.”

Hepatitis C Support Project: “Hepatitis C Basics: Disclosure.”

American Liver Foundation: “Special Challenges for People with Substance Abuse,” “Talking to Loved Ones About Hepatitis C.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “Viral Hepatitis: What You Can Do/Alcohol and Hepatitis,” “Viral Hepatitis: Mental Health: Entire Lesson.”

Hepatitis Foundation International: “Living with Hepatitis.”

Hepatitis C Association: “Sexual Transmission of HCV.”

Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education: “Hepatitis C Management: Management of Psychiatric Disorders in HCV-Infected Patients.”

Paul Berk, MD, professor of medicine and emeritus chief of the division of liver disease, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City; former chairman of the board, American Liver Foundation.

Alan Franciscus, executive director, Hepatitis C Support Project and editor-in-chief of HCV Advocate, San Francisco.

Thelma King Thiel, chair and CEO, Hepatitis Foundation International.

David Thomas, MD, professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore.

Howard J. Worman, MD, associate professor of medicine and anatomy and cell biology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York City.

The American Gastroenterological Association.

CDC.

The Hepatitis Foundation International.

The HCV Advocate.

The National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases.

WebMD Medical Reference: "Health Guide A-Z: Hepatitis C," "Newly Diagnosed: Hepatitis C."

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