How to Talk to Friends and Family About Your HIV

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There is no right or wrong way to tell someone you have HIV. But trying to explain your condition and symptoms to others is not such an easy task. Every family is different and has its own unique way of handling things, as do friends and people in general.

But knowing that others understand what you’re going through and are there to support you can help with the stress of your condition, and actually improve your health. Studies have shown that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment than those who don’t. Friends and family can offer support and take some of the weight off your shoulders. But you don’t have to tell everybody. If you feel someone may hold it against you or won’t walk with you down this road, focus on the ones who will.

Consider these things before telling your family or friends:

What kind of relationship do you have? Is this a close family member or friend? Will this person be supportive, judgmental or perhaps even abandon you based on the news? If you have children, consider whether your child is mature enough to handle the information. Educate yourself so you can talk to your child about your condition and answer any questions. And make sure your child knows that he or she can’t “catch” HIV, a common concern for kids, as well as some adults.

Why do you want them to know? To have a support system? So you don’t have to hide anything? Because your friend or family member has always confided in you? Make sure you have a valid reason before sharing such personal news with someone.

What are the pros and cons? Before considering telling someone, make a list of the pros and cons of the person knowing and whether you should tell now or later. What kind of support can your loved one provide? Can you trust this person to keep it private? Is it a necessity? In many states, you can be found guilty of a felony for not telling a sexual partner you are HIV-positive before having intimate contact. 

Once you’ve decided it’s the right thing to share your HIV diagnosis, you may be nervous about starting a conversation. Some of these tips may help:

1. Plan. It can be helpful to not only plan the time and place you will talk to your friends and family, but also plan for what you're going to say ahead of time. Write out some notes to keep you on track. It may be and easier to have a counselor or someone who already knows about your condition with you to help break the news and respond to initial questions and concerns.

2. Inform. Consider your friends’ and family’s attitude and knowledge about HIV. Do they have fears or misconceptions about it? Tell them about the symptoms you have been experiencing and what you are doing about them. Be open to addressing their questions and concerns.

3. Refer. Direct them to credible websites or pamphlets you received to learn more and find out what they can do to help. Be ready with literature, phone numbers for support groups, and contact information for other people in your support network.

4. Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. You may need an extra pair of hands to help with things that are more difficult for you at this time. Or you may want a close friend or relative to accompany you to doctor appointments and keep emergency information on hand. It can be useful to have another set of ears, as well as someone else who can ask questions and simply offer support when you seek treatment.

5. Understand. You can’t control how people react to your condition, so don’t be discouraged if the first reaction is not the one you hoped for. Your loved ones will likely show a range of emotions and reactions as they come to understand your condition. Try to keep in mind that these reactions are based in love and concern for your health. Just like you, they deserve time to process this unexpected information. As they learn more and understand what you’re going through, they will find a way to be supportive.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Dec 12
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