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Return to Mental Health Services Available for Families Living with HIV Overview

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Mental Health Services Available for Families Living with HIV

Mental Health Services Available for Families Living with HIV

New York (Jul 21, 2010)

Many children, adolescents, and adults infected with HIV - as well as their family members - would benefit from mental health services to help them cope with their diagnosis in a society where HIV stigma still persists despite dramatic treatment advances and the abundance of factual information about this virus. The availability of mental health support for families living with HIV is particularly valuable in New York City where, according to its Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, more than 100,000 individuals have been diagnosed with HIV and an estimated 1 in 5 persons with HIV is not aware of their infection.

That’s where the Special Needs Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital steps in. This unique program has provided comprehensive mental health evaluation and services to families experiencing the impact of HIV in order to empower them to deal with the diagnosis since 1992. The clinic’s dedicated multidisciplinary staff -psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, case managers, and a teacher -addresses family dynamics as a whole while paying close attention to the specific psychosocial and educational problems of each individual member.

Depression, anxiety, family conflicts, and adherence to prescribed medical treatments are among the common challenges facing those who participate in this HIV mental health program. For example, teenagers who are born with HIV sometimes refuse to take their medications. This can occur because the adult family members begin withdrawing supervision. In addition, a number of these adolescents were born to parents with significant psychiatric problems and the teens also develop mental health problems that peak after puberty and contribute to their poor compliance.

"One of our goals is to help adolescents adjust and cope with living with HIV and to make sure they benefit from the medications available to them," says Warren Ng, MD, Director of the Special Needs Clinic. To ensure that adolescents - as well as adult patients - follow treatment plans, the clinic staff closely collaborates with each patient’s primary care provider.

Caring for the caregivers is also a major mission of the clinic. Individual and group therapy along with support groups are designed to keep family members from experiencing burnout and make them feel less isolated and alone in their responsibilities. "We acknowledge that they have needs as well, and that they have a difficult job," says Dr. Ng.

The Special Needs Clinic, which cares for some 280 patients a year, is not limited to families from the Hospital’s community, but also works with families from the five boroughs of New York City. In fact, according to Dr. Ng, the program receives referrals from the city's Administration for Children’s Services, family courts, and pediatric HIV medical programs that cannot find appropriate mental health services for children and adolescents. The clinic’s Co-Director, Claude Mellins, PhD, and Program Director, Sheila Ryan, LCSW, MPH, share in the leadership challenges of the program.

If you would like to learn more about the Special Needs Clinic - a model for family-based HIV programs - please call (212) 305-9099.

Faculty Contributing to this Article:
Warren Ng, MD, Director, Special Needs Clinic of NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, and Asst Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

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