Self-care strategies for depressive symptoms in people with HIV disease


  • Lucille Sanzero Eller PhD RN,

  • Inge Corless PhD RN,

  • Eli Haugen Bunch DNSc RN,

  • Jeanne Kemppainen PhD RN,

  • William Holzemer PhD RN,

  • Kathleen Nokes PhD RN,

  • Carmen Portillo PhD RN,

  • Patrice Nicholas DNSc RN

Lucille Sanzero Eller, Rutgers,
The State University of New Jersey College of Nursing,
180 University Avenue,
NJ 07102,


Aim.  This paper reports a study with people living with HIV to examine the experience of depressive symptoms, self-care symptom management strategies, symptom outcomes in response to those strategies, and sources from which the strategies were learned.

Background.  Depressive symptoms are common, under-diagnosed and under-treated in people living with HIV. These symptoms have been associated with lower medication adherence, risky behaviours and poorer health outcomes.

Methods.  The study was based on the model of symptom management developed by the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing Symptom Management Faculty. Thirty-four HIV+ men and women from a larger study of symptom self-care strategies (n = 422) reported experiencing depressive symptoms. Data were collected from this subset on the Web, by mail and in-person using the critical incident technique.

Results.  Depressive symptoms were described using 80 words and phrases clustered into eight categories: futility, sadness, loneliness/isolation, fatigue, fear/worry, lack of motivation, suicidal thoughts and other. A total of 111 self-care strategies were coded into six categories: practising complementary/alternative therapies, talking to others, using distraction techniques, using antidepressants, engaging in physical activity, and using denial/avoidant coping. Sources of information for strategies used were trial and error (31%), healthcare providers (28%), family and friends (20%), classes/reading (8%), clergy (8%), support groups (4%) and other (3%). Overall, 92% of the self-care strategies used were reported as helpful, 4% were sometimes helpful and 4% were not helpful.

Conclusions.  People living with HIV use numerous effective self-care strategies to manage depressive symptoms. Further study is needed to validate the use of these strategies across populations, to standardize dose, duration and frequency, and to measure their effectiveness.