How to cope with HIV stigma


By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

HIV stigma

You can never tell how people will react when they find out you’ve been infected with HIV.

Some people will show compassion and understanding. You’ll be amazed at how kind and decent they can be.

Some may fear you or shun you, at least at first. You’ll be amazed at how uneducated and judgmental some people can be.

Some people won’t know what to think. They may need time to figure out their own feelings and educate themselves before they get back to you.

Some days you may feel the sting of HIV stigma, while others are full of joy and gratitude.



Focusing on what you can control

After you’ve been diagnosed, you can do everything right — take your meds every day, practice safer sex, help others in your HIV support group — but some things may still go wrong.

That’s because some things will always be beyond your control.

You can’t control what other people think about your diagnosis. But you can control what you think about having HIV.

The first step in taking control is to cut yourself some slack and stop blaming yourself.

Think about it this way: What does blame accomplish? It can’t cure your infection or pay for your meds. All blame does is make you feel worse.



Come join our private, stigma-free, supportive community.

Health management tools with medication & appointment reminders.
Social networking in a community conversation & private chats.


Try things that make you feel better

Feeling better will give you the confidence to find a doctor and start a treatment plan. It will give you the courage to tell everybody who might’ve been exposed to your infection.

It will help you decide exactly who needs to know you are HIV positive. Not everybody deserves to share in the news of your private health status.

The better you feel, the easier it becomes to create an emotional coat of armor against HIV stigma. It will help you form deep and meaningful friendships with people who care for you and have your back.



Learn more to defend against HIV stigma

Learning more about your health status and the risks of HIV transmission can help you reassure people that you’re not best friends with the Grim Reaper. Undetectable = Untransmittable!

Learning about today’s anti-retroviral therapies can help you educate people about the realities of HIV.

Learning about safer sex practices and avoiding injected drugs can help make it clear you can still have a good time and enjoy yourself.

As long as you know what to think about your diagnosis, it doesn’t really matter what other people think. HIV will never define you, you are more than your diagnosis. You’re strong baby, let that light shine for all the world to see.

Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
Positive Peers is a private app for young people living with HIV. Learn how you can earn rewards for your participation.