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Friends, Attitudes & HIV
Dealing with attitudes to HIV and your friends
When you’re young, there’s going to be a lot of stuff going on in your life – school, friends, weekends, your family – some of it great, some of it difficult. Whilst most of issues that you face may be the same as many of your friends, HIV can add some extra things that you need support with.
Disclosing or telling your friends
Telling people that you have HIV is known as ‘disclosing’. It can be a big decision to share your status with a friend. It can bring you closer and create another source of support, but it is good to consider what could go wrong and to be very clear about how you will tell the person.
If you decide that this is something you want to do, you can make a personal plan – when will you tell them? Where is a good place to be? How much do they already know about HIV? You could get them to read 'HIV and AIDS for young people' so they know the facts. How much do you want to tell them? Only that you have a blood condition, or do you want to name it? Asking questions like ‘What do you think about HIV?’ beforehand may help you to gauge how much they know and how they may react.
When disclosing, remind your friend that this is just something that affects your immune system – it doesn’t change who you are or your friendship.
You may decide that you don’t want to tell anyone at your school, but to share your status with people from a peer support group, where people will be in a better position to understand.
Challenging stigma and bullying
One of the reasons for this is that unfortunately, HIV is sometimes connected with something called ‘stigma’. This is when people think that somebody is less valuable because of a certain thing about them, like where they live, what language they speak, what colour hair they have or their HIV status. It’s very wrong, but is usually because people don’t understand the thing that they’re passing judgement about. In the case of HIV-related stigma, if you experience it, it’s really good to talk to somebody – to try to work out a way to challenge it together.
Problems with stigma sometimes aren't helped by information about HIV not taking into account the views and experiences of HIV-positive people:
“It makes me a little mad when I see things on T.V about HIV…they’re trying to help me so I cant really get mad at them, but it really does hurt sometimes.” Kathy, HIV-positive young person
Getting involved in advocacy activities, which is about getting your voice heard as a young person living with HIV, can help you to challenge stigma with other people who may have been through similar experiences. UNAIDS (a big international organisation) has a tool-kit for young people living with HIV who want to advocate for their rights. Sharing your story or posting about how HIV affects you on facebook can link you to other people who understand that the issues that you discuss are important.