Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Cameo Stanick

Commitee Members

Christine Fiore, Annie Sondag


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Child Psychology | Clinical Psychology


Due to advances in medical treatment for HIV/AIDS, individuals infected with HIV are living longer. HIV is now considered a chronic illness, and there has been limited research into the mental health problems that can arise from living with HIV, particularly among children and adolescents. Past research has demonstrated that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can result from experiences related to chronic illness. Importantly, HIV could affect children and adolescents in a distinct way when compared to any other incurable, chronic illness. The present study examined the mental health issues faced by children and adolescents who are infected with HIV as well as those who are affected by HIV (i.e., have an infected family member), specifically the extent to which they experience traumatic events. The study measured how children and adolescents who are infected with and affected by HIV experience HIV-related traumatic events, such as: receiving an HIV diagnosis and witnessing HIV-related death. The study explored how children and adolescents living with HIV experience posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) from these HIV-related events, as well as non-HIV-related events, and if participants meet criteria for PTSD as a result. The prevalence of additional mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, were assessed as well. Participants were children and adolescents ages 8 to 19, and participants living with HIV were compared to clinical and community pediatric samples. Contrary to the hypotheses, children and adolescents living with HIV did not differ significantly in their levels of PTSS, anxiety and depressive symptoms, or level of psychological adjustment from clinical pediatric samples. Further, children and adolescents did not experience a greater number of non-HIV-related traumatic events when compared to those with medical problems or disabilities. While children and adolescents did not differ significantly from a pediatric sample, they still experienced elevated levels of PTSS and PTSD in relation to prevalence rates reported in the community samples, including in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Trent et al., 2013). Importantly, exploratory analyses revealed that camp experiences might be protective and beneficial for children and adolescents living with HIV, which highlights the importance of providing support for this highly vulnerable population.



© Copyright 2016 Kaitlyn P. Ahlers