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In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the number of children and families living with HIV and AIDS remains high, with case rates for children and adolescents well above the national average. Children’s National Hospital provides clinical care and support for patients at risk for and living with HIV and support for those who help care for them. Special Immunology Services serves approximately 230 children, adolescents, young adults and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Our HIV Services Mental Health Program provides psychological services to youth enrolled in the Ryan White Program at Children’s National. 

Mental Health Services

At Children’s National, we care for the whole person, taking into consideration the emotional effects of illness in addition to the physical symptoms. Children, adolescents and young adults living with HIV/AIDS often experience a variety of mental health issues, including:

  • Self-stigma
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral problems
  • Bereavement
  • Depression
  • Difficulties with adjustment
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms
  • Relationship problems
  • Substance abuse 

Because emotional and behavioral problems are common among patients living with HIV, they are routinely screened for mental health, and our psychologists discuss recommendations for care and treatment with patients and their families. In-clinic consultations are also conducted to assist with various issues, including swallowing pills, adhering to medication and providing basic psychoeducation and interventions around common mental health concerns. Individual therapy, targeted family therapy and peer support groups are provided for those who are interested.

Interactive peer support groups are offered monthly for youth living with HIV/AIDS. The purpose of these groups is to provide support with diagnosis coping, medication adherence, diagnosis disclosure and managing common issues faced by youth. 

How We Can Help

The HIV Services Mental Health Program staff aims to help youth to live happy and healthy lives, cope with their medical condition and manage mental health. Mental health support services are provided on both an outpatient and inpatient (hospital based) basis. In addition to the general mental health referrals, youth and families may be referred to the program for a number of pediatric issues including:

  • Medication adherence
  • Pill swallowing
  • Adjustment to illness
  • Adjustment to hospitalization
  • Diagnosis disclosure and education

Depending on the needs of the patient, treatment may include individual therapy, targeted family therapy, parent training, psychiatry consultation and medication. HIV Peer Support Groups for youth aged 12-24 years are offered monthly.

Psychological evaluations are offered on a case-by-case basis to monitor cognitive development and signs of HIV-related mental health problems. We discuss the results with families and provide a report that details the findings of the evaluation. School advocacy, educational planning and consultation are offered when needed to improve patient academic and life experience. 

Contact Information

The Mental Health team is located on the main hospital campus. Appointments are available Monday through Friday for youth and families who are served in the Ryan White Program, HIV Prevention and Treatment Program clinic only.  

Our Mental Health Team