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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, associated factors and coping strategies in people living with HIV: a scoping review

Chenglin Hong, Artur Queiroz, Jordan Hoskin

Journal of the International AIDS Society

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic and associated measures implemented by authorities have created additional stressors and increased the risk of psychological illnesses among people living with HIV (PLWH). Yet, there is no collective evidence on the mental health status of this population during the global pandemic and associated factors. This scoping review aimed to synthesize the evidence in the current literature related to the mental health outcomes and challenges faced by PLWH during the COVID-19 pandemic, identify the associated factors with psychological distress and summarize various coping strategies to ease these psychological distresses used by this population.

Methods: We conducted a scoping review following the PRISMA-ScR guideline and a literature search in four electronic databases in August 2022. Three reviewers independently screened all the search records and extracted the data from studies that met the inclusion criteria. Factors associated with worsened mental health outcomes were synthesized according to the socio-ecological framework.

Results: Among 1100 research records, 45 articles met the eligibility criteria and were included in the final review and data extraction, most of which were quantitative analyses. PLWH reported high rates of mental health problems during the pandemic. Multi-level factors were associated with increased psychological distress, including substance use, antiretroviral adherence, social support, financial hardship and economic vulnerability during the pandemic. PLWH used social media as a coping strategy to foster social support to deal with growing mental distress. Increased mental health illnesses were associated with increased substance use, it was also found associated with suboptimal medication adherence and antiretroviral therapy (ART) care engagement.

Discussion: PLWH experienced high rates of mental health illnesses, such as depression during the global COVID-19 pandemic. There is an urgent need to provide comprehensive HIV treatment and mental health services as the pandemic continues to evolve.

Conclusions: The review summarized how the mental health of PLWH was affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Future work in the implementation of effective interventions to promote mental health in this population is needed, not only to ensure their quality of life but also to help them maintain ART adherence and healthcare during more unprecedented times.

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