Self-esteem and HIV: beyond social condemnation

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Joe Dispenza
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Self-esteem and HIV: beyond social condemnation

Do you know what relationship exists between self-esteem and HIV? We talk about it in this article.

Last update: 22 September, 2020

Self-esteem has always been considered a key factor in psychological and physical well-being. Nevertheless, some categories are socially condemned and rejected, with negative consequences on the perception of oneself. One example is people with HIV, although it is a dwindling phenomenon. However, we invite you to answer this question: would you feel comfortable working alongside an HIV-positive person? Or that your child has a child with HIV as a schoolmate? Do you know what relationship exists between self-esteem and HIV?



Those who know this disease probably wouldn't worry too much. However, recent polls show that more than half of respondents would be willing to change their children's jobs or school for this reason.

What effects can bias have on the self-esteem of people with HIV? Can self-esteem prevent HIV-related risk behaviors? We see it below.

Self-esteem and HIV: social condemnation

Stigma and prejudice can be as real - as a health threat - as symbolic. Symbolic in the sense that HIV has been associated, from the beginning, with behaviors contrary to certain ideologies or traditionally immoral.

Rejection and fear come mainly from ignorance, but this is not the only explanation. Because HIV infection is associated with anti-prevention behaviors, some people will tend to blame the sufferer or think he got what he deserves.

What's more immoral: to think that a person deserves to get sick or to engage in behavior that someone qualifies as immoral? Let's not forget that, in the early years, this disease was associated with homosexuality and drug addiction.



The polls speak

The results of a study conducted in Spain indicate that more than half of the respondents feel uncomfortable in the presence of a person with HIV and try to avoid contact. This results in discriminatory behaviors and attitudes, such as being in favor of making the names of people with HIV public in order to avoid contact.

The fear probably stems from the lack of information about the disease. In the survey, 17% of respondents believe they can get HIV from sharing the toilet and up to 34% from a mosquito bite. How important it is to be informed! The lack of information leads us to have misconceptions about the ease of transmission of the virus; this, in turn, encourages prejudice, social condemnation and discrimination.

With what consequences?

Prejudice and social condemnation represent a risk as they prevent, in the first place, receiving social support. This can lead people with HIV to feel ashamed of their health, to blame and isolate themselves.

The self-esteem of a person with HIV can be very low. High levels of anxiety and stress result. If the decline in self-esteem is not detected early, it could escalate into a depressive disorder. In severe cases, one might come to believe that the only way to end suffering is suicide. This thinking is 66 times more common among HIV patients than in the general population.

Another dangerous consequence of low self-esteem, as with other emotional disorders, is that interfere with adherence to antiretroviral treatment. The latter is thus severely compromised. Patients with HIV, in fact, need psychological support aimed at increasing adherence to treatment; 95-100% adhesion is required to be effective.



Self-esteem and HIV: risk behaviors

On one side, studies indicate that low self-esteem is associated with early sexual intercourse, more sexual partners, difficulty engaging in sexual assertiveness, and a greater frequency of risky sexual practices.


On the other hand, higher scores in self-esteem are linked to a positive attitude towards the condom. A third current of thought explains the coexistence of good self-esteem and risky sexual behaviors with a low perception of risk.

Knowing the importance of self-esteem in the development of sexuality - and more precisely in the prevention of associated risks (in this case the prevention of HIV infection), as well as offering young people adequate sex education, programs should include a module for self-esteem work. 


In order to reduce the negative repercussions that our attitude can have on the self-esteem of people with HIV, it is necessary to have truthful information about the disease, to increase social awareness, foment tolerance and understanding. The aim is to put an end to social condemnation and discrimination, the source of so much malaise.

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