After being diagnosed with a hepatitis B infection, it is very common to experience disturbing emotions. Coping with an unpredictable, chronic viral infection is a big challenge, compounded by the fact that you are a potential source of infection to others. How you react emotionally may depend to some extent on how severely you are physically affected, how you were informed of the diagnosis, and whether you feel guilty about how you contracted the virus.
Patients frequently feel the following emotions:
Fear and helplessness
You may be afraid of giving hepatitis to your partner, or of getting involved in romantic situations. You may be afraid that you have already given hepatitis to your children or spouse. You may fear the potentially serious complications from the late stages of chronic infection. It takes time to understand your infection, undergo treatment, protect your loved ones, and normalize your life around having hepatitis B. If your fear seems overwhelming, talk to your health care provider. Help is available and it is important to receive it early.
As hepatitis B may affect sexuality and childbirth, you may feel strongly about keeping your diagnosis a secret. You should, however, confidentially inform:
- The person from whom you think you received the infection. This person needs to know so that they can take appropriate action to avoid passing the virus on to someone else.
- Your physician. Your physician who must diagnose and treat you, needs to know that you are infected.
- New sexual partners. New sexual partners need to know so they can give informed consent, undergo vaccination, and use safe sexual practices.
Loss of self-esteem
Your sense of self worth may have been shaken by the diagnosis of hepatitis B. Build your self-confidence through learning about this very common infection and talking to your partners and friends. You may find it helpful to share your feelings with others through newsletters or self-help groups.
The sense of loss experienced by having hepatitis B is mild for some people, and very severe for others. Feeling sad when you find out about your infection is normal. If your depression persists, talk to a professional counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. If you are having trouble sleeping or if your appetite or work habits have deteriorated, talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you are taking the drug interferon, which often causes depression. If necessary, go to a hospital emergency room and talk to a doctor there. It is important that you share your feelings with someone you trust.
Stephen Sacks, MD
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team