HOW TO TELL PEOPLE YOU HAVE A CHRONIC ILLNESS
How to Tell People That You Have HIV
Education as Empowerment
“While disclosure can be scary,” says Dennis Sifris, MD, an HIV specialist based in South Africa who served as a consultant to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, “it shouldn’t be governed by fear.”
Dr. Sifris suggests that you learn as much you can about HIV before disclosing your illness to someone else. Not only does this give you the information you need to answer many of the questions a person might have, but it can help clear up any of your own misconceptions about the disease.
When it comes time to make your disclosure, consider when and where to share the news. Ideally, it should be at a time and place when and where you feel safest.
“Be prepared to support your friend or loved one if they suddenly appear distraught or overwhelmed,” says Sifris. “Remember this is all new to them. It often takes time to process the news.”
If you get a response that is not what you expected, try your best to accept it. In the end, Sifris advises, you have no control over anyone’s feelings but your own.
No One-Size-Fits-All Solution
While disclosure always poses challenges, there are also benefits. Chief among these is the emotional support you can gain by opening yourself up to others. Not only can this support increase your sense of well-being, it can improve your health. For example, people who disclose their HIV status tend to visit their doctors more frequently, according to a study published in 2015 in the journalAIDS Patient Care and STDs. Disclosure can also improve drug adherence by alleviating the need to conceal treatment. And by remaining adherent to his or her therapy, a person is less likely to infect others.
Even in the face of such benefits, there is really no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to making such a disclosure. Every case will be different, with different risks and benefits that you will need to weigh carefully.
In most cases, disclosure will be purely a personal choice. However, there are laws in some states that require you to share your status with certain individuals. Notifying both currentandpast sexual partners gives them the opportunity to seek life-extending treatment, if needed.
Some general tips on disclosure:
- When disclosing your status to a spouse or intimate partner, approach the discussion with the understanding that it will take time to explore all of the aspects of your disclosure. Focus on what the diagnosis means and be prepared with referrals for testing and counseling. Try to accept your partner’s response, however difficult, and allow as much privacy and time as your partner needs to process the news.
- When disclosing to a past sexual partner, you can contact the person directly or ask your doctor to do it for you. In some states, you can “contract” to notify the partner by a certain date; if disclosure is not made by that date, the health department will step in to do so without revealing your identify.
- When disclosing to family, take into consideration your family bond. If it’s strong, disclosure may help strengthen it. If the bond has been strained in the past, the disclosure may add further strain. Have brochures and other materials on hand to help family members better understand what HIV means.
- When disclosing to children, it’s often best to lay the groundwork by introducing the subject of HIV well beforehand. While children in elementary school typically have the ability to comprehend HIV, it’s important to give them time and let them ask as many questions as they need to. In the end, they simply want to know that you’re okay and that everything is going to be fine. Give them that assurance.
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