Hep C, Depression, and Anxiety: Is There a Link?

If you have hepatitis C (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 to Talk About HCV

Many people struggle to admit they have HCV, see a doctor, or get treatment that will help. Opening up about your illness will feel scary at first, but when you have HCV, you need more support, not less.

It’s your choice when and who to tell that you have HCV, but anyone you may have exposed to the virus, like a partner, should know sooner rather than later. They’ll want to get tested.

When you tell others:

Get advice first. 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.

Start with the facts. Many people react badly because they don’t know much about HCV. Do research ahead of time. That way, you can inform and reassure your loved ones. For instance, you may tell them that this illness is hard to pass on and their chance of getting it is small. You may also want to tell them that HCV can be cured.

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


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.

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 to bleed and raise your chances of infection.

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.

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on September 09, 2019



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.”

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