Although HIV is widely known about and is treatable; there is still stigma associated with living with the HIV. There is also other stigma associated with aging which excludes older people from social activities and reduces their contribution to society. This stigma can affect your sense of self-worth and be damaging to your mental health. If you are living with HIV, some ways of thinking that can help you to beat stigma are:
- Being proud of who you are and your achievements in life;
- Remembering that living with HIV is not your identity, you are much bigger than the virus;
- Being aware that people will see you as a person first, before they know your HIV status;
- Not letting somebody else's beliefs cloud what you know to be true about yourself;
- Educating others about how HIV is transmitted and helping to change the way they see HIV;
- Challenging stigma where you can by talking openly about what living with HIV means;
- Joining a support group of others who have experienced what you are experiencing.
"Support plays a huge role in a person's life, especially when one is sick. It has played a huge role in my life. I got support from my friends and family, and I am here today because of the support that I got." Strike Shabalala
It is your decision whether you want to disclose your HIV status to other people. It is not something that needs to be rushed into, but there are many benefits to disclosure, such as:
- Having somebody who knows about your HIV status and who supports you will make it easier for you to cope with living with HIV;
- If you have support, it is easier to adhere to treatment and achieve viral suppression;
- If you feel accepted, supported and loved, you stand a better chance of living a long and healthy life;
- Disclosing reduces the burden and stress of keeping your status to yourself and means you will have less chance of developing stress-related illnesses like high blood pressure.
It may be difficult to decide who to disclose your status to and what to say to them. You should think about how disclosing might affect both you and the person you are telling. How a person reacts will depend on what kind of relationship they have with you. Some older people find it difficult to explain their HIV status to their children, particularly as this might involve having conversations about the sexual transmission of the virus. It is not important to explain to people how you think you may have contracted HIV, but it is important that they know what kind of support you need and how they can help.