While the quality of life for people living with HIV has improved for the last few decades, social and psychological barriers remain. According to many people, HIV is not like any other disease. They view it as a result of moral decay, leading to HIV stigma.
However, this is far from the truth. People can acquire HIV from gone-wrong medical procedures, accidents, at birth, among other things. Other than the infected people, some minority groups such as the gay community, injecting drug users, and sometimes people of color are mostly blamed and viewed as vectors for transmission. But, to make people living with HIV feel loved and accepted, we need to fight the stigma around HIV.
What Is HIV Stigma?
HIV stigma can be defined as negative attitudes, judgment, or behaviors towards people living with HIV. It has negative effects on an individual living with HIV and can also discourage people from learning their status. People living with HIV tend to avoid treatment for fear of stigmatization.
Stigma can also discourage people at risk of acquiring HIV from seeking HIV prevention kits and screening and also from talking openly with their sex partners about safe sex.
HIV stigma affects almost every sector, including health care, workplace, education, families, judiciary, and community. However, fighting HIV stigma is important in ending the HIV pandemic.
What Is Internalized Stigma for People With HIV?
Internalized stigma refers to when an individual living with HIV experiences a negative attitude or thoughts regarding their HIV status. According to a study, 8 out of 10 adults in the U.S. living with HIV report experiencing internalized HIV-related stigma. Internalized stigma can lead to mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, feelings of shame, isolation and may also interfere with one’s need to follow the medication procedure.
How To Overcome HIV Stigma
Learning to defeat HIV stigma is not an easy task. It requires a will and a change of belief. For example, you should not view HIV as a disease that is caused by moral decay. To overcome HIV stigma, you should understand your fears that are based on perception and those based on actual experience.
By separating these two, you’ll be in a better position to deal with possible discrimination in your daily life. Overcoming discrimination is a process that requires time and patience. It requires opening up and sharing your fears with other people. Though opening up might be difficult due to fear of more stigma, it can allow other people some time to view your status from a positive perspective and avoid isolating you.
Do Not Blame Yourself
Most people living with HIV tend to blame themselves. But you shouldn’t. Remind yourself that HIV is just like any other disease and is not due to your actions. By convincing yourself that your condition is like any other and living a happy, healthy life. Other people have no option other than treating you well hence minimizing stigma.
Learn and Educate Others About HIV to Reduce HIV Stigma
Sometimes stigma can be a result of a lack of knowledge. Many people, either the affected person or the community in general, view HIV as a death sentence. However, with a healthy balanced diet, exercise, and medication, people with HIV can lead a normal and healthy life. Understanding this and helping other people understand it too can be helpful in fighting stigma.
Understand More About Your Legal Rights
Everyone has rights under the law. Understanding then can help in fighting or minimizing stigma. For example, it’s only when you know that you have a right to work in a conducive and friendly environment that you can stand up for anyone making it hard for you at your workplace. Everyone has a right to access health care, and you can demand health care services with the knowledge that the law is very clear on it.
Understand Your Rights at the Workplace
No employer should ask their employees about their HIV status, even if they are provided with health insurance. However, if your employee comes to know that your HIV status is active, they are not supposed to deprive you of a job vacancy, demotion, or fire you. If this happens or you experience discrimination at your workplace due to your HIV status, immediately file a case with the Department of Justice.
Be Ready for Insensitive Questions
Human beings are always curious, and sometimes their curiosity can lead to them asking insensitive or even stupid questions. Preparing yourself for such a question ensures that you are not caught off guard and confident with your response. While responding to these questions, ensure that you take the opportunity to educate a person and minimize their fear around HIV. You should also try not to be defensive – be polite and respond to their questions with confidence.
Youth, the LGBTQ+ community are among people who need more education about HIV. Educate them on ways to protect themselves and stay safe. Contrary to notions, inform them that there are many ways one can get HIV besides sexual intercourse. Married partners also need to be aware that unsafe sex outside wedlock with persons of an unknown HIV status can put them to risk of getting this disease. Creating awareness can help fight HIV stigma since individuals will learn more about protecting against, acquiring, and living with HIV.
Overcoming HIV Stigma – Bottom Line
Lack of knowledge about HIV has led to discrimination against people living with the disease. Some people believe that associating or even socializing with these people can put one at risk of getting HIV. In some cases, the affected people are shunned by the community and isolated. More education is required to understand that HIV is just like any other disease and can be managed with medication, exercise, and proper nutrition. HIV also cannot be spread through socializing with affected people. With this information in mind, we can reduce stigma and discrimination, preventing affected people from developing mental health disorders.