Dealing with Stigma
Developments in treatments mean that more and more people living with HIV are living longer and healthier lives. However, the prejudice and stigma that many people have either directly experienced, or are concerned they may be subjected to, still presents major barriers to people living with HIV accessing the support, services and treatment that they need.
What is HIV related stigma?
HIV related stigmatisation has been identified as starting as soon as information regarding a person’s sero-status is known (accurately or not). It is the process in which a person is looked at in many negative ways as soon as they are known or suspected to be HIV positive. (See Salvator Niyonzima, Understanding HIV Related Stigma)
“People who are stigmatised against are marked out as being different and stigma is often attached to things which are seen as embarrassing or a danger. Stigma can be used as a way of denying dignity, respect and tights to some members of society, and can result in people being isolated or abused. It can lead to discrimination, where people are treated less well because of a characteristic they have.”
HIV & Stigma, NAM
Experiences or perceptions of HIV related stigma can have major effects on an individual if left unmanaged including:
- Increased anxiety and distress
- Distrust of services around issues including confidentiality
- Lower self-esteem and lack of confidence
- Lessened health and wellbeing
- Fear of criminalisation
- Lower expectations for self and others
- Feeling unable to disclose status to friends, families, work colleagues or partners
All of which have a significant impact, not only on a person’s ability to access the treatment and support required, but also their ability to adhere to their treatment and care regimes.
Stigma and discrimination can be very difficult to challenge or manage and it is really important that you remember that you do not deserve to be treated this way and that it is unacceptable. If you then choose to challenge this treatment, you might want to consider the support, resources or information you might need to do this. A really useful resource you may wish to read when thinking about how you might be affected by HIV related stigma, and how you might wish to address it is the NAM, resource ‘HIV & Stigma’ available to download here.
Know your rights
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 gives protection to disabled people from discrimination in a number of different areas, including employment and recruitment. HIV is considered to be a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act from the time of diagnosis. While this identification may in itself appear stigmatising – it does provide protection of rights for people living with HIV in key aspects of all our lives (i.e. housing, benefits, employment, goods and services) To see an easy-read version of the Equality Act and how it can support you please download a copy here.
Further information on your rights in relation to benefits, housing, work, immigration, travel and ageing can be found on the national My HIV website
If you are experiencing any difficulties or concerns you can access advice and advocacy you can access support from The Forge Centre, Sheffield’s HIV and Hepatitis social work support service. Click here for more details.
When we are faced with any difficulty it can be made that much harder if we feel we have to manage it by ourselves. It is often helpful if we are able to talk through any difficult feelings whether this is with families, partners, friends or colleagues. It can also be beneficial to access specific support services such as the Forge Centre, where specific Social Work support is available.
You may also find it useful to access peer support networks and HIV services which offer safe, confidential spaces to access one-to-one support and advice, time out from difficult situations, and the opportunity to share and learn from other people who have similar experiences or anxieties.
Shield, the South Yorkshire HIV Support service have offices in Sheffield and Rotherham and offer a wide range of services including outreach, mixed social meetings, men’s drop –in and women’s groups, counselling and complementary therapies.
For more information contact SHIELD on 0114 278 7916 or click here.
Further information that you might find useful around managing stigma and discrimination and looking after your health and wellbeing;
- HIV Reality Check Leaflet
- Stigma, discrimination and attitudes to HIV & AIDS
- Prosecutions for HIV Transmission – a guide for people living with HIV in England and Wales
- Police Investigation of HIV Transmission – a guide for people living with HIV in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- HIV, mental health and emotional wellbeing, NAM
- Personal Information and the NHS – A guide for people living with HIV