What happens if diagnosed with AIDS

An HIV diagnosis can be devastating and traumatic. On World AIDS Day, we try to look beyond the stigma and tell you the socio-psychological implications a HIV+ person goes through and how he/she can cope with it

By Dr Parul R Sheth

An HIV diagnosis can be devastating and traumatic. A range of emotions follow although emotions may manifest in different ways for different people. Anger, fatigue, grief, guilt, anxiety, fear and uncertainty fill the minds of those afflicted with HIV.
Since the HIV virus can be deadly and can spread from person to person, some people in the society tend to place a stigma on HIV carriers.  HIV has a huge psychological, physical and social impact on the infected people and their families and it is not just the person who is infected with HIV who suffers but also the family gets affected.

Quoting the WHO guidelines, “Counselling and social support can help people and their carriers cope more effectively with each stage of the infection and enhances quality of life. With adequate support, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are more likely to be able to respond adequately to the stress of being infected and are less likely to develop serious mental health problems.”

Socio-psychological problems
Dr Nishanth Jayaraman, junior resident, Department of Psychiatry and Dr Prabha Chandra, professor of psychiatry, NIMHANS, Bangalore in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry write that the most important aspect in HIV/AIDS is the social stigma. Soon after becoming aware of one's HIV positive status, the HIV infected person often has to work through life changes including relationships, family, employment, finances etc.

Those living with HIV may face inequalities such as obtaining jobs or maintaining employment, life assurance etc. Psychological and social needs of HIV-infected children and their parents are many. It becomes difficult for parents to disclose their child’s HIV status. 

For children and adolescents living with HIV disease, Dr Mamatha Lala, medical advisor and consultant paediatrician, Committed Communities Development Trust / Society for Human & Environmental Development and Wadia Group of Hospitals, Mumbai, who has been working with HIV affected children and has authored a book on HIV, says, “Many factors associated with their illness threaten their emotional well being:  coping with the pain of their physical illness, worries about their physical health or prognosis, frequent disruptions of social and academic activities due to hospitalisations and medical appointments, social stigma and isolation, fears related to disclosure, losses etc.”

Coping measures
“Feelings of guilt for having done something wrong to deserve HIV, feelings of depression, social withdrawal, loneliness, anger, and confusion may be present among both adults and children struggling to cope with HIV disease,” states Dr Lala.
Seema Hingorrany, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, says, “Self confidence crashes in a person diagnosed with HIV. Depression, fear, guilt and other correlated symptoms set in. The person begins to shun friends and family; they turn into loners. Social intervention is important at this time.”

“Do not bottle up,” advises Seema. “Talk, confide in family and friends. High empathy factor is needed from people close to the HIV inflicted individual. Get professional help to ease anxiety and depression. It is imperative to get rid of HIV myths and compiling fears. Counselling and psycho-social support is a must,” she adds.    

Because of the stigma attached to the disease, HIV positive people are afraid to disclose about their condition. But it is important to be honest with your partner.  When people do not disclose their HIV status, the risk of HIV transmission including that of mother-to-child, increases. Also, these individuals may miss out on effective treatment and care.  With support and care a person living with HIV can find a new lease of life.

Social implications

  • HIV/AIDS is not transmitted through casual contact. Shaking hands, hugging, kissing, touching door handles, sharing food are safe
  • An employer cannot discriminate you because of your HIV status
  • You have a right to play team sports and compete with other athletes. You should not hold back information that you are HIV positive. This information would remain confidential
  • Be honest with your partner – you can date, fall in love and you can still have sex using protection measures
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