Keeping HIV/Aids a secret: a coping strategy to deal with the burden of stigmatization


  • M. Gonçalves
  • F. Teixeira
  • A. Maia


Background: Living with HIV/Aids encompasses coping with the diagnosis, the disclosure of the disease, the stigmatization, the lack of social support. There is a risk group facing bigger challenges, namely women, without previous risk behaviors for HIV but infected, in most of the cases, by their partners. However, little is known about this group and how they are dealing with this disease. Method: This study involved eleven HIV/Aids positive women, mostly infected by a partner in a stable relationship. We conducted semi-structural interviews in outpatient treatment for HIV/Aids in hospitals in the North of Portugal, with the purpose to explore the adaptation processes to the diagnosis. The interviews were analysed according to thematic analysis procedures. Findings: Keeping HIV a secret emerges as one of the main themes. It works as a self-preservation strategy from women expectations of social rejection and stigmatization. Although, in a short term it seems to promote psychological adaptation, in a long term, it makes them living in constant panic, developing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Reactions to diagnose are associated to chock, sadness and rage. Most of women were infected by their partners, which leads to relationship damages and ambivalent feelings towards them. These women develop a negative self-image, describing themselves with repulse and disgust, transferring their negative beliefs about HIV. Discussion: These findings enhances the need to develop strategies that help these women to empower themselves and to cope with the secret as way to prevent the development of psychopathological symptoms and preserve their well-being.





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