San Antonio AIDS Foundation Introduces New Mental Health Services

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(EDGE) As part of their move to address the mental health concerns of its clients, The San Antonio AIDS Foundation (SAAF) has appointed licensed counselor Francisco J. Ramirez as the agency's first-ever mental health counselor.

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According to the National Institute for Mental Health, people living with HIV may be at a greater risk of developing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. In fact, approximately 24 percent of HIV-positive individuals are at risk of developing a serious mental illness, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

"A large percentage of our clients' experience depression, and a lot of our new clients are recently-diagnosed, putting them at a greater risk for developing mental health issues," said SAAF's Vice President of Client Services Jose Cervantes. "It can be a struggle for clients to deal with their diagnosis while addressing their mental health issues. By offering mental health services at our Grayson facility, clients are more likely to show up for their mental health therapy, because it's offered at a place they're familiar with."

The appointment of Ramirez is SAAF's first step in tackling mental health issues. Ramirez holds a master's degree in psychology counseling and has more than five years of experience in public health, including four years working with clients with a dual diagnosis of HIV and mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

As SAAF's mental health counselor, Ramirez will assist clients with a variety of needs, including individual therapy, crisis counseling, and treatment plans for managing their diagnosis and related issues, such as substance abuse.

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This is especially important, as the American Psychological Association reports that HIV-positive people are more likely to develop substance abuse issues, which can often lead to suicidal ideations, highlighting the importance of the crisis intervention services Ramirez will provide.

Additionally, SAAF plans to hire a second mental health counselor by the end of 2016. An on-site outpatient clinic will also open to the public before the end of the year. These services are part of SAAF's commitment to providing a continuum of care to people living with HIV.

"Many people think that treating HIV is as simple as taking a pill to treat the disease itself, but there are a number of other concerns, such as mental health or substance abuse issues, that should be addressed to ensure the HIV treatment is as successful as possible," Cervantes said. "SAAF has always been dedicated to addressing these underlying needs and our new mental health services are a great example of our commitment to the overall health of our clients."

Founded in 1986, the San Antonio AIDS Foundation is the oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organization in Bexar County. Its mission is to prevent the spread of HIV and provide comprehensive services to individuals affected with HIV/AIDS.SAAF's headquarters and residential services are located at 818 E. Grayson St. and the testing and education offices are at 333 S. Hackberry St.

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