Everyone has talked about a particular status in his or her life, be it their relationship status, their financial status, and heck people talk about their problems on their Facebook status all the time! But one thing that’s rarely talked about is one’s HIV status. Despite its relevance today it is still greatly stigmatized and has been thought of as taboo by many. This monthly column aims to help facilitate discussion on issues surrounding HIV testing and living with HIV.

Three months after your last unprotected sexual encounter, you may decide to get tested for HIV as part of your routine. While waiting for the results, you feel anxious and uneasy. When the findings are given, your counselor communicates to you that they come out reactive. While others may feel overwhelmed with emotion, you may feel like time has stopped with a rush of numbness. A lot of questions may rush into your mind, and you may wonder how you would talk to someone about your status.

Who should I tell in the first place?
The decision to start the conversation about your status with someone is ultimately yours to make. Others may feel confident enough to tell a majority of people in their life, while some may struggle to tell even one. Some newly diagnosed people living with HIV (PLHIV) may still be in denial or fear that disclosing their serostatus would lead to automatic rejection, discrimination, and false accusations of promiscuity and infidelity[1, 2]. Either way, the number of people who know about your status should not be the basis of a good social support network. A good criterion to go by would be to share your new positive status with people whom you think are capable of understanding and caring about you and your situation[3]. This may mean an informed and open-minded family member, your romantic partner, or a close friend.

Multiple studies[4,5,6,7] have shown that the establishment of a supportive social network is an important factor towards the compliance to treatment and mental health of a person living with HIV (PLHIV). A good supportive network can provide both informational and emotional support which are important especially in the first few months of diagnosis. This network can also serve as partners in the journey of accepting one’s self and maintaining a positive self-concept. Formal organizations that serve as support groups may be an interesting option to consider, as you can meet fellow PLHIVs who can serve as a reminder that you are not alone.

You may also consider talking to your current and/or past sexual partners if you are unsure of how you were able to contract HIV. The person who may have given you the virus may not be aware of their own status, and may not be getting the proper care and treatment for their condition. Likewise, your current partner should know about the unforeseen risk you two have taken in your most recent sexual encounter. Currently, there are no laws in the Philippines regarding mandatory disclosure of HIV status with potential partners, unlike the United States. However, in the interest of reducing your partner’s risk of HIV infection, it may be also helpful to talk about pre-exposure prophylaxis.

How do I approach the situation?
After deciding on whom you want to tell, you may wonder how you would even go about telling them. Similar to the previous question, how you start the discussion about your status is up to you. There is no specific way to best facilitate the conversation for everyone as your relationship with one person is different from another [7]. An important thing to note is to recognize that it is normal for you to feel nervous about the situation. Take your time to prepare what you want to say. Part of the discussion about your status may be educating the person about HIV.This may include explaining what your status means, modes of transmission, mechanics of transmission, and/or debunking certain misconceptions.

You may ask someone for a casual cup of coffee, dinner, or even just a walk. Make your environment as comfortable as possible, not only for you, but for the person you’re telling as well.

How do I face unfavorable reactions?

It can feel heartbreaking to tell someone something personal and feel rejected because of it. You may have considered this person to be someone that you trust, but upon telling them, it’s as if you just told a closed-minded stranger.

This may be a big fear for most people disclosing their status to significant people in their lives; however, it is important to remember that while they may not be ready to accept you as you have presented yourself, that you are still worthy. It may all be overwhelming as you are also just starting to come into terms with the news that you have received. In this moment in time, you will need people who support you, and for now you do not need people who will put you off your path towards accepting and empowering yourself. Getting support should be your primary goal when coming out to someone as a PLHIV.

LoveYourself offers free and confidential HIV testing, pre and post test counseling, and treatment for all regardless of sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. Moreover, LoveYourself Anglo offers life coaching services for newly diagnosed PLHIV clients enrolled in its treatment program to guide them in their journey towards acceptance of self and proper health management.

Text by Carlos Diego A. Rozul
Stock photo sourced online

1 http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/82/4/299.pdf
2 http://sti.bmj.com/content/sextrans/80/6/512.full.pdf
3 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Maria_Cecilia_Zea/publication/8645023_ Disclosure_of_HIVPositive_Status_to_Latino_Gay_Men’s_Social_Networks/links/0fcfd50ae707958497000000.pdf
4 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1024252926930?LI=true
5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16706710
6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10910783
7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25290317
8 https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/just-diagnosed-with-hiv-aids/talking-about-your-status/do-you-have-to-tell/
9 https://www.poz.com/basics/hiv-basics/disclosure