It is not surprising to notice a sense of apprehension associated with the diagnosis of AIDS, or even at times an investigation for HIV. Considering the huge emotional burden associated with AIDS, having an effect on the individual’s personal, sexual, social as well as occupational functioning, it becomes increasingly important to recognize its magnitude as well as its impact on our society.
Psychological Factors associated with AIDS
It is not just the biological impact of any medical condition but also the psychological components which need to be recognised. This is more so for a condition like AIDS, which brings with it a multitude of stressors and apprehensions, beginning from its diagnosis, treatment as well as prognosis. Considering the psychological impact of AIDS, the reduced immunity levels not only make the individual more susceptible to various conditions, but further have an adverse impact on the individual’s mental health and well-being. For instance, such an individual is more prone to psychiatric illnesses with some of the common comorbid con including depression, anxiety as well as insomnia.
In addition, the patient (as well as the family members, caregivers and significant others) also tend to experience the burden of stigma associated with such a diagnosis. In fact, the increased need for caution coupled with myths associated with AIDS often leads to a social isolation, which can have an adverse impact on his or her relationships as well. Besides the mortality associated with AIDS, individuals infected with HIV are faced with the challenges of discrimination, and their families also find themselves shrouded in these feelings of shame and isolation. Being a sexually transmitted disease, most people attach a very strong moral stigma to the disease, shunning the HIV infected individuals not only due to a fear of contamination, but also with accusations. As a consequence, most HIV infected individuals find themselves fighting not only against the physical symptoms, but also carry a feeling of guilt growing from being blamed for having contracted their disease. This in turn could serve as a harbinger of suicide as well, considering the negative psychological connotations like isolation, hopelessness and lack of support.
Need for De-stigmatization of HIV
One of the worst outcomes of such stigma and discrimination is the lack of openness to communicate about HIV related issues. In efforts of the individual and his/her families to hide the facts, not only do many cases remain underreported and untreated, but this also increases the risk of HIV infections. It is important to encourage open communication about HIV and AIDS to ensure education and awareness about the disease. Moreover, it is especially necessary to create sensitization among the youth, as use of injectable drugs, unprotected sex, and intrusive procedures like tattooing or piercing have been found to be leading causes of HIV transmission in India (NACO, 2011). We need to address the children and the youth of the country to sensitize them towards HIV in order to prevent as well as to reduce HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination.
Societal Responsibility – A Preventive Approach
Myths and misconceptions need to be clarified, and individuals need to be empathetic to the needs of the HIV infected people, learning to respect their rights, and looking at them as holistic individuals, versus defining them solely by their diagnosis or disease. One of the most vital steps in dealing with individuals’ diagnoses with AIDS is to ensure a change in approach and sensitisation. There is a need to create awareness and bust myths, in order to prevent stigmatisation of such individuals as well as their families. Instead, we need to develop an empathetic attitude, and offer our support to them. It is important to work towards maximal normalisation of such individuals, helping them be engaged and focussing on increasing their functionality. Such an approach is equally important as compared to the medical services that are required in such cases.
The need of the hour is not just spreading an awareness but sensitizing the people. We all need to be able to identify and relate to the suffering associated with HIV, and be willing to talk about such issues openly. This will go a long way in not just providing a strong support system to the HIV infected individuals who are usually isolated, but also will help in education, sensitization as well as prevention of AIDS.