While food insecurity and poverty worsen mental health outcomes among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV), few intervention studies have targeted poverty and food insecurity as a way to improve mental health. Among HIV-positive patients, addressing such upstream determinants may prove crucial to ensure better mental health and HIV clinical outcomes. We integrated longitudinal, qualitative research into a randomized trial of a livelihood intervention to understand processes and mechanisms for how the intervention may affect mental health among HIV-infected Kenyan adults. In-depth interviews were conducted with intervention participants (n = 45) and control participants (n = 9) at two time-points (after intervention start and upon intervention end). Interviews (n = 85) were translated, double-coded, and analyzed thematically using an inductive-deductive team approach. Participants reported numerous mental health improvements post-intervention including reduced stress, fewer symptoms of anxiety, improved mood, lower depressive symptoms, fewer repetitive and ruminating thoughts, and more hopefulness for the future. Improvements in mental health appear to occur via several mechanisms including: 1) better food security and income; 2) increased physical activity and ability to create fruitful routines around farm work; and, 3) improved sense of self as an active member of the community. Qualitative, longitudinal interviews may help identify intervention mechanisms for improved mental health, but additional research is required to confirm self-reports of mental health changes. These findings suggest that livelihood interventions may improve mental health in multi-faceted ways, and help PLHIV better integrate with their communities. Trial registered at ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT01548599.
Keywords: Kenya; food insecurity; livelihoods; mental health interventions; qualitative research.