Previous research has identified high levels of mental health problems among people affected by HIV. This study surveys specifically adolescents in southern Malawi on their experience of the impacts of living with HIV or AIDS on one's mental health. At the same time, the study explores the link between mental health problems and subsequent HIV-risk behaviour. Short texts relating everyday scenarios that depicted symptoms of three mental health problems (i.e.depression, anxiety and HIV-related brain impairment) formed the basis of in-depth discussions in 12 existing groups of secondary school students, orphans and vulnerable children, teenage mothers, and out-of-school youths, in both rural and urban settings. The responses show that these young people recognised the mental health sequelae of HIV/AIDS as impacting upon many aspects of one's life. The young people traced these 'interruptions' and 'disruptions' through deteriorating psychological and socio-economic conditions. They showed awareness of a two-way interaction between HIV/AIDS and mental illness, indicating that the latter can increase thoughts of suicide and HIV risk-taking behaviour. More importantly, they identified a number of locally derived community interventions, which if supported by statutory health and education services, can significantly ameliorate their situations. The findings provide avenues for practical integration of mental health provision within HIV prevention, education and care initiatives.
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