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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