Coping with the Stigma of AIDS/HIV

Psychological well-being is measured by looking at a number of different emotional conditions. Depression and anxiety decrease well-being, while feelings of control and self-esteem can increase an individual’s overall well-being. People who have AIDS/HIV must address not only the physical symptoms of the illness, but also the psychological side effects caused by the stigma associated with AIDS/HIV. Although there has been much progress dispelling the myths about AIDS/HIV over the past decade, there still exists some prejudice and discrimination against individuals who contract the illness. The people suffering with aids may experience both enacted stigma, feelings resulting from actions people take, or felt stigma, feelings resulting from fear of future stigma or perceptions of how others see them. How an individual copes with these types of stigma can directly affect their psychological well-being. To better understand the influence of stigma coping strategies, Carol T. Miller of the Psychology Department at the University of Vermont studied 200 AIDS/HIV clients and evaluated their levels of depression, anxiety, and self-esteem.

Miller discovered that the participants used both engagement and disengagement coping strategies. She found that those that used engagement coping strategies had less stigma-related anxiety and depression than those who disengaged. However, she also realized that the participants who used disengagement strategies, although they experienced more anxiety, did not experience increased levels of depression. Overall, the participants said that they struggled with felt stigma, internalized feelings of stigma, more than enacted stigma. This factor could explain why anxiety was more significantly impacted than depression. Miller also noted that psychological well-being is not only influenced by the absence of negative symptoms, but also the increase of positive feelings. In this respect, the participants who used engagement coping had higher levels of self-esteem than those who disengaged. She added, “These relationships suggest that efforts to teach people with HIV/AIDS strategies to deal with HIV/AIDS stigma by using fewer disengagement coping strategies and more engagement coping strategies may improve the overall psychological well-being of people with HIV/AIDS.”

Varni, S. E., Miller, C. T., McCuin, T., Solomon, S. (2012.) Disengagement and Engagement Coping with HIV/AIDS Stigma and Psychological Well-Being of People with HIV/AIDS. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 31. 2, 123-150. Print.

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  • Dwight


    March 5th, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    It is surprising that in this day and age there is still such stigma attached to an HIV diagnosis, but some prejudices do not go away. Sometimes they get veen deeper. So why is that? I don’t necessarily think that it is the disease but the assumption that anyone with this disease is gay. I think that this is where the real problem lies, that there is still so little acceptance of the gay community. And that is so sad to realize that there are those who totally discount an entire group of people over something that in reality is really none of their business. It is that deep prejudice I fear that may keep us from ever finding a cure, simply given the fact that the money won’t be there because of that hatred that is still felt toward the homosexual community.

  • paulie


    March 5th, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    and better coping mechanisms are certain to be equated with better overall general health

  • F.Bravo


    March 6th, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    Never easy to live with something by which others judge you,call you names, and may even push you away. It acts like a catalyst to the person because all that this pushing and prejudice is doing is worsening his/her health.

    But we cannot go around telling the world about myths and facts.No matter how intensive a campaign,there will always be people with closed minds who would not want to listen to any of it.

    What is required is strengthening the victims and allowing them the space to grow free of such things,making them understand how all those comments are useless and that they know better.

  • angelique


    March 6th, 2012 at 5:15 AM

    If you think that this is bad here then you should look into some of the third world countries where AIDS is even more prevalent and how it is affecting especially the female population there. Not only are they ostracized but they also face a serious lack of care. And the saddest part is that no one seems to care or wants to step in to help prevent their numbers from continuin to grow.

  • martin


    March 6th, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    These are sick people, those with HIV and AIDS. Don;t you think that they need care and support and not hatred and distaste hurles at them? I would want that if I were really sick, and I hope to be big enough inside to do that for others. You would think that all of these Bible beaters who are the ones supposedly doing what Jesus would do would see that their behavior is exactly what Jesus would NOT do.

  • Jane


    March 6th, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    Instead of care and concern,people with HIV get all this stupidity thrown at them.And yeah it happens all the time.People think shaking hands or even staying close to the person would give them the virus.This is nothing but phobia and it’s effects are disastrous.

  • Sean


    March 7th, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    I lost a lot of friends in the very early years from this disease. Somehow it has managed to miss me but also touch me in so many ways. I lost people that I loved and seeing them and how ashamed they felt was devastating, almost as sad as watching the disease take them from us. Why would you make someone feel this way over something that they cannot help? Would you treat a cancer or heart disease patient this way? I think not. The thinkgs people have said and done make me so angry, but we have to keep fighting on and hoping that one day the prejudice and hatred will end.

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