In an era of widespread HIV treatment and undetectable viral load, stigma remains a persistent feature in the lives of almost half of people living with diagnosed HIV in the UK, according to a recent study. Anticipated stigma (the person with HIV expecting someone else to have a poor opinion or bad reaction to them) was frequently reported, especially in the context of disclosing to potential sexual partners. Regrettably, healthcare remains an important site of stigma. The researchers found that 40% of respondents had experienced negative treatment in a healthcare setting, including the use of excessive barrier protection, negative comments and being given the last appointment of the day. Having had problems in the past was associated with being worried about future interactions with healthcare staff (anticipated stigma) and avoiding care, most often at a GP or dentist.
Nonetheless, the majority of people living with HIV scored highly on measures of psychological resilience, enabling them to cope better with stigma. For example, in response to the statement “I tend to bounce back after hardships”, two-thirds said this was often or nearly always true. In relation to “I am able to handle unpleasant or painful feelings”, half said this was often or nearly always true.
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For more information on stigma and how to deal with it, read NAM’s booklet ‘HIV, stigma & discrimination’.