Dealing With Severe Depression After a Herpes Diagnosis

Depression
Depression. Dusica Paripovic / Moment / Getty Images

I just got a herpes diagnosis and feel like my life is over. What should I do?

More and more recently, I have been hearing from young men and women experiencing such severe depression after a herpes diagnosis that they are talking about killing themselves. If you are considering suicide after a herpes diagnosis then you need to get help.

Herpes is not a fatal illness. It is an incredibly common virus that affects a huge portion of the population.

In the U.S., scientists estimate that one in four women and one in five men are living with herpes, many of them without even realizing it. If you have herpes than you are not alone.

Many people live long, happy, romantically- and sexually- satisfying lives after a herpes diagnosis. Although hearing that you have herpes can be extremely stressful, because of the stigma associated with the disease, herpes is simply a virus like any other. A herpes diagnosis says nothing about how you live your life. It says nothing about who you are.

Depression after a herpes diagnosis is not uncommon, but it is important to know that things will get better over time. For most people, the first outbreak is the worst, and the frequency and severity of future outbreaks can be reduced with suppressive therapy. Although dating with herpes can seem stressful, most potential partners will take your diagnosis in stride, particularly if you approach the subject with openness, honesty, and information.

If you have severe depression after a herpes diagnosis, please get help. Herpes is not something worth losing your life over.

What Are People Worried About After Diagnosis?

Two of the most common causes of depression after a herpes diagnosis are shame and fear of infecting a partner. Fortunately, there are concrete ways to deal with both of these issues.

One of the first steps in dealing with shame is understanding how common herpes is. It affects more than 20 percent of the population, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight. A genital herpes diagnosis says nothing about who you are. As for concerns about infecting a partner, those are real. However, there are ways that you can reduce that risk. These include consistently practicing safe sex and using suppressive therapy to reduce herpes transmission. You can also limit sexual contact before and during an outbreak. However, that is not the most effective form of prevention due to the risk of asymptomatic viral shedding

How Common is Depression after Herpes?

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence linking depression to a herpes diagnosis, but relatively little published data. That said, in 2012, a national study found that adults infected with HSV-2 were twice as likely to be depressed as adults who did not have HSV-2. However, there was no way for that study to determine if HSV caused that increase in depression, vice versa, or there was another relationship between herpes and depression. That's certainly possible as depression and herpes are both also linked to sexual risk taking.

 

Depression and Herpes - A Two Way Relationship

Herpes may cause an increase in depression, but stress, depression, and anxiety definitely cause an increase in herpes outbreaks. Numerous studies have linked an increase in stress and depression to more frequent outbreaks. This shouldn't be surprising, as stress and depression can have powerful effects on the immune system. That's one reason why it is important to seek help if you're stressed or anxious from a new herpes diagnosis. When you're less distraught, you're also less likely to have herpes symptoms. It can be a vicious cycle, but it's a cycle that help and stress reduction techniques can interrupt.

 

If you are considering suicide:

It is very important that you talk to someone immediately and let them know you are feeling this way – someone who can talk to you right now. If you are under the care of a psychiatrist or a counselor, he or she is the person to call. You can also call your doctor or clergy person. A family member or friend is also a good choice.

If these options are not available to you, please call a suicide crisis hotline. In the United States, you can call 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255. Here is a web site that lists other hotline numbers in the U.S. and around the world:

http://hopeline.com/

Sources:

Mark H, Gilbert L, Nanda J. Psychosocial well-being and quality of life among  women newly diagnosed with genital herpes. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2009 May-Jun;38(3):320-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2009.01026.x.

Pratt LA, Xu F, McQuillan GM, Robitz R. The association of depression, risky sexual behaviours and herpes simplex virus type 2 in adults in NHANES, 2005-2008. Sex Transm Infect. 2012 Feb;88(1):40-4. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2011-050138. 

Strachan E, Saracino M, Selke S, Magaret A, Buchwald D, Wald A. The effects of daily distress and personality on genital HSV shedding and lesions in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial of acyclovir in HSV-2 seropositive women. Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Oct;25(7):1475-81. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2011.06.003. 

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