Dealing With Depression After a Herpes Diagnosis

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

It is not uncommon to experience depression after receiving a herpes diagnosis. Not only are you faced with a condition you have to tell your sexual partners about, but you may be awash in feelings of guilt, anger, shame, sadness, anxiety, or fear that you simply cannot shake. All of these emotions are normal.

As with any health condition, you will eventually learn to adapt and come to terms with the diagnosis. But, if you can't and find yourself struggling with depression because you have herpes, you need to seek professional help.

Woman sitting with her forehead to her knees
Dusica Paripovic / Moment / Getty Images

About Herpes

If you have herpes, you are not alone. It is an incredibly common virus that affects more than 1 out of 6 people ages 14–49 years in the United States. In fact, many people living with herpes don't even realize they have it.

Herpes is not a fatal illness or one that will necessarily be all that impactful. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by two types of viruses. The viruses are called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

For most people, the first outbreak will be the worst. After that, the frequency and severity will tend to taper off. For some people, herpes may even be a one-off event, with symptoms happening only once. If not, there are antiviral drugs you can take to treat and/or prevent outbreaks.

Coping With the Diagnosis

Although learning you have herpes can be stressful because of the stigma associated with the disease, herpes is simply a virus like any other. A herpes diagnosis says nothing negative about how you live your life. It says nothing negative about who you are.

As hard as it may be to believe, people with herpes can date and have happy and fulfilling sexual lives with herpes. This is not to suggest you won't encounter challenges or need time to adjust.

The very act of disclosing your status to a sexual partner can be extremely stressful, but not disclosing it can be even worse. There is a chance you may be rejected if your partner finds out or that you may pass the infection to others even if you use condoms.

But, it's important to know that the attitude toward herpes is fast changing. The public is more aware than ever of how the virus is spread and what you can do to protect yourself against not only herpes but a host of the common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

To normalize herpes in your life, you need to first embrace self-acceptance. It is a process that may take time, but one that can help you rein in feelings of depression you may be struggling with.

Herpes and Depression

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence (stories passed between people) linking depression to a herpes diagnosis, but relatively little published data. With that said, a national study conducted in 2012 found that adults infected with HSV-2 were twice as likely to be depressed as adults who were not.

It is unclear from the study which factors were linked to the risk of depression, including whether depression was a preexisting condition for some. There is plenty of evidence that depression increases a person's vulnerability to STIs given the increased likelihood of alcohol abuse, drug use, and sexual risk-taking.

On the other hand, some people may simply be able to cope better with health adversity than others. The inability to cope is not something you should be ashamed about. It simply suggests that you may need help coming to terms with a herpes diagnosis.

Doing nothing will only make things worse. Numerous studies have linked stress to more frequent or severe genital herpes outbreaks. Moreover, depression undermines the quality of your life, your relationships with others, and your very health.

What to Do

Depression is a disease not unlike others you may have. You can't wish it away or pretend that it isn't there. Whatever the cause, it can benefit from treatment which may include counseling, medications, or self-help therapies. The first step is recognizing there is a problem.

Among the steps you should take if faced with overwhelming emotions after a herpes diagnosis are:

  • Be aware of the signs of depression: These include persistent feelings of sadness or a loss of interest in things you otherwise enjoy. There may be changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem.
  • Call a healthcare provider: If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, seek medical help. The mainstay of treatment is usually medications (such as antidepressants), talk therapy (including cognitive behavioral therapy), or a combination of the two.
  • Deal with substance abuse issues: This may include groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or alcohol/substance treatment centers.
  • Learn about herpes: If herpes is specific to your depression diagnosis, it is important to learn what the disease is, how it is spread, and how it can be prevented. By answering all of the what-ifs surrounding the disease, you can become a master of your illness rather than the other way around.
  • Practice disclosure: If you need to disclose your status to a sexual partner, sit down with your healthcare provider, a counselor, or a trusted family member to practice. Consider all the possible responses and build a strategy to better cope with whatever response you receive.

If your emotions are extreme or you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, dial 988 to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect with a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes - CDC fact sheet.

  2. Pratt LA, Xu F, McQuillan GM, Robitz R. The association of depression, risky sexual behaviours and herpes simplex virus type 2 in adults in NHANES, 2005-2008Sex Transm Infect. 2012 Feb;88(1):40-4. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2011-050138 

  3. Johnson TP, Hughes TL, Cho YI, Wilsnack SC, Aranda F, Szalacha LA. Hazardous drinking, depression, and anxiety among sexual-minority women: self-medication or impaired functioning?. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2013;74(4):565-75. doi:10.15288/jsad.2013.74.565

  4. Ives AM, Bertke AS. Stress hormones epinephrine and corticosterone selectively modulate herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and HSV-2 productive infections in adult sympathetic, but not sensory, neurons. J Virol. 2017;91(13):e00582-17. doi:10.1128/JVI.00582-17

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.