Hepatitis C (HCV) is a serious virus that can cause significant damage to the liver. Many individuals who contract HCV do so through blood transfusions or intravenous drug use. The illness can have detrimental physical health consequences and can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. Individuals with HCV also experience psychological problems as a result. For instance, many people who are diagnosed with HCV are of low socioeconomic status and have limited access to adequate health care. Other psychological conditions that are common among individuals with HCV include discrimination, depression, and substance misuse. Additionally, the treatments available for HCV can cause negative side effects and decrease a client’s quality of life.
Psychologists are also trained in social and behavioral sciences, and although they are not the first line of defense in the treatment of HCV, they are a vital component in the overall treatment regimen. Donna M. Evon of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine recently published a paper emphasizing the importance of psychological treatment for those living with HCV. Evon says that many individuals with HCV do not adhere to their medical treatment regiments because of other psychological issues such as substance abuse. Working with a psychologist as well as a medical doctor can help these individuals address their addiction issues, which could then increase their commitment to HCV treatment.
Evon believes that psychologists need to be proactive in their involvement. She suggests that mental health clinicians ally themselves with hepatologists and gastroenterologists in order to increase the overall level of care for these clients. Psychologists may be able to not only help with comorbid conditions but also help clients deal with the adverse side effects of medication and the psychological stigma and discrimination surrounding HCV. Evon adds, “Biomedical advances in HCV and antiviral treatment have created a fertile field in which psychologists are uniquely positioned to make important contributions to HCV management and treatment.”
Evon, D. M., Golin, C. E., Fried, M. W., Keefe, F. J. (2012). Chronic hepatitis C and antiviral treatment regimens: Where can psychology contribute? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029030
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