Strategies for improving mental health and wellbeing used by adults ageing with HIV: a qualitative exploration
Mwangala P., Wagner R., Newton C., Abubakar A.
Background: Physical and mental health problems are common among older adults living with HIV (OALWH). Adaptive coping strategies play a vital role in improving these adults' mental health and well-being despite the deleterious effects of HIV and ageing. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, limited evidence exists on the commonly utilized coping strategies in this population. We explore the coping strategies used by Kenyan OALWH to improve their mental health and wellbeing. Methods: Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted between October and December 2019 with 56 participants: 34 OALWH (53% female), 11 healthcare providers (63% female) and 11 primary caregivers (73% female) in Kilifi County. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. We used the framework approach to synthesize the qualitative data. Results: Five major themes emerged from the analysis of participants’ narratives, including self-care practices, religion and spirituality, relational living (social connectedness), generativity, identity, and mastery. Our study further revealed maladaptive coping strategies, including reliance on over-the-counter medications, self-isolation, waiting to see if symptoms would subside despite doing nothing, and HIV treatment interruptions during prolonged periods of prayer and fasting. Conclusions: Our findings provide an initial understanding of the coping strategies used by OALWH to confront HIV and ageing challenges in a low-literacy, low socio-economic Kenyan setting. Our results suggest that interventions designed to enhance personal capacity, social support, positive religiosity and spirituality, and intergenerational connections may be beneficial in improving the mental health and well-being of OALWH.