Despite the potential social and emotional consequences, gay men with HIV usually do not regret disclosing their status to friends and family members, according to a new study.
“Results suggest that although disclosure is regarded as an anxiety provoking activity and negative reactions are typically anticipated, HIV disclosure appears to elicit very little regret to a wide variety of social network members,” the authors write.
The findings may be useful for those contemplating disclosing their HIV-positive status.
“Disclosure of HIV status may be a difficult event but once the hurdle is jumped, regret is minimal,” study author Dr. Julianne M. Serovich, of The Ohio State University, in Columbus, told Reuters Health.
Prior studies have shown that the consequences of disclosing HIV-positive status may include rejection, abandonment, ostracism and degradation. Such disclosure may also be associated with certain benefits, however, such as more social support and increased medical attention and access to assistance. Yet, while researchers have examined people’s decisions about whether to disclose their HIV status, little research has focused on whether people regret their disclosure afterwards.
Serovich and her colleagues examined this in a study of 76 gay men with HIV who had disclosed their HIV-positive status to at least one family member, friend or other member of their social network. The 21- to 61-year-old study participants all contracted the virus through sex and had been diagnosed with HIV for anywhere from 1 month to 16 years.
Based on their questionnaire and interview responses, 80 percent of the men’s social network were aware of their HIV-positive status, and 75 percent of the men expressed little or no regret about disclosing their status to these individuals, Serovich and her team report in AIDS Education and Prevention.
When regret was expressed it was usually concerning disclosures within the nuclear family, work environment, and with previous or casual sex partners, the report indicates.
For example, men were four times as likely to regret telling their nuclear family, especially their parents, that they were HIV positive, as they were to regret disclosing that information to friends, study findings show.
“This result should not be surprising given the differential emotional bonds and experiences shared among family versus friends,” Serovich and her co-authors write.
Still, the researchers note, only 22 of the 318 cases of disclosure to family members were associated with regret.
“I was encouraged by the results and hope that these can be shared with those who are contemplating disclosure,” Serovich told Reuters Health.
She did caution that the findings are based on a small number of mid-western, primarily Caucasian men. Serovich noted that it is not known whether they can be generalized to heterosexual men, women, or people of other races or ethnicities.
SOURCE: AIDS Education and Prevention, April 2006.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD