Telling others you’re HIV+: do’s and don’ts
If you’re HIV-positive, it can be very scary to tell others you’re carrying a life-threatening virus. The virus that causes AIDS – a disease still stigmatised by society. Telling others you’re HIV-positive is known as ‘disclosure’. It’s good to know what to say, who to tell and who not to tell.
Get some counseling to help fight stigma
Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma and negative feelings associated with HIV/AIDS. So people’s reactions could be extreme when you tell them. This is the first thing you need to know while deciding to disclose your HIV positive status.
You might feel guilty, ashamed and even unworthy of living. But keep in mind that it could happen to anyone and it’s not your fault. If people react negatively, it’s good to remember that this is just one person. Not everyone will have the same reactions. And keep in mind that hearing your status might scare them. They may come around later on. Give them some time to digest the information. They might need it, just like you did.
Tell your partner
The one important person you will have to own up to is your partner, especially if the two of you are having sex without a condom. It’s important to tell your partner for two reasons: they could also be infected and should get tested as soon as possible to find out. Secondly, if you are having unprotected sex, you could infect them, or, if they are positive already, re-infect them.
You should prepare yourself for your partner’s reaction. They may be angry, sad, scared, or maybe they will even want to break up with you straight away. Give them some space and time to digest the information; it will be difficult for them, just like it was hard for you.
If you are scared of telling your partner, or you don’t know how to, you can ask a VCT counsellor for help. Most of them can either give you tips, or they can do it together with you.
Take your time
If you have just found out yourself that you are HIV-positive, don’t rush into telling others. It’s a very difficult situation to be in, and you are likely to feel scared, vulnerable and in need to talk to someone. But first, you need to make sure that you yourself understand the diagnosis and what it means for your life.
If you feel the need to talk to someone, it might be best to talk to a (VCT) counsellor or join a peer-group for PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS). Only once you have started coming to terms with your status you should consider telling others about it.
Once you have started to accept your diagnosis, you might not worry too much about telling people anymore. But you should always consider if the person you are talking to really needs to know. There are still many prejudices in the heads of people when it comes to HIV/AIDS, and sometime disclosing your status can create problems.
So before you start telling your co-workers and bosses or teachers about your status, take a moment and consider if they really need to know. If you feel that someone in your work or school environment needs to know, tell one person you trust, so that they know about your status in case of a problem or an emergency.
Before you tell somebody, make a plan of what you want to tell them. This may be different for every person you speak to – what you tell your mother might be different from what you tell your best friend.
You can make a plan with the five ‘w’s: who, why, what, where and when. Who do you want to tell and why do you think it’s important for them to know? What do you want to tell them exactly, and what are you expecting them to say in return? And when and where do you want to tell them? A relaxed private place might be the best idea.
Write everything down and take your notes with you. It might be emotional, and that way, you won’t forget something you really wanted the other person to know.
Forget to mention it to medical professionals
It’s important to mention your status to doctors you see for conditions or check-ups, even if they aren’t directly related to the HIV. First of all, so they can take extra precautions when handling your blood. But more importantly, because other medications might interfere with your ARVs, if you are taking them.
And there are many conditions that affect especially PLWHA. Telling a doctor about your status might make it much easier and quicker for them to diagnose these conditions and treat them adequately.
If you are dating, you might feel the need to tell your date about your status at the first date. But it’s a good idea to take it slowly and give them some time to get to know you before disclosing your status. You need to tell them before you start having sex though. That said, some people like to have their status out in the open straight away.
- If you feel you can’t tell your family and friends, don’t isolate yourself. You need to talk. Find a support group or talk to a counselor.
- It’s your choice who to tell and who not to tell. There are no legal obligations when it comes to disclosing your status. But do not endanger others!
- It takes real courage to tell others. Don’t forget to feel proud of yourself, whatever their reaction has been.
- There is no right answer or way that works for everyone when it comes to disclosure. So you need to find out what works for you in terms of whom to tell and what to say.
- It’s good to find out what the person you tell knows about HIV/AIDS and build on what they know, instead of overwhelming them with information they can’t process.
Have you had to tell someone that you are HIV-positive? Share your experiences below or join the discussion on Facebook.