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Telling people you are HIV-positive

two women talking over tea

If you have been diagnosed with HIV, you probably feel stressed. There is a lot to think about. Questions like these may be going through your mind: How will you get the health care you need? How will having HIV impact your life? How will your family and friends react?

One challenge you will face is deciding who to tell about your HIV status. If you can do so safely, you should talk to your current and past sexual partners or people who you shared needles with. If you cannot tell them yourself, the health department in your area can notify your contacts without giving your name. You should also tell your doctors. You might also consider sharing your status with certain family members, friends, and children.

It may be hard to know if telling certain people will bring good or bad outcomes. You might fear that friends or family would leave you, or that you would face discrimination. You might worry about being judged or feel guilty about past drug use or sexual behavior. In some situations, revealing your status could put you at risk of physical harm. Since some people may not be as accepting of your HIV status, these are all valid issues to think about.

By opening up about being HIV-positive, you can get support, information, and acceptance. For example, you can talk to other women with HIV about your symptoms and fears. You can get emotional support, and you won't have the burden of keeping this secret. A support network can help you deal with the stresses of having HIV and help you to feel less alone.

Taking these steps can help you figure out whom you want to tell:

  1. Think about the people you rely on for support, like family, friends, or coworkers.
  2. Figure out your relationship with each of these people and the pros and cons of telling them.
  3. Determine any issues the person might have that will affect how much he or she can support you. For example, does the person have any health problems? Can you trust this person?
  4. Look at people's attitude and knowledge about HIV. Do they have fears or misconceptions about HIV?
  5. Think about why you'd want to tell some people in particular. What kind of support can each person provide?
  6. For each person, decide if the person should be told now, later, or to wait and see.

Deciding who to tell may take a short time or a long time. There is no right way to do this. It is a very personal choice that only you can make.

When you tell someone that you're HIV-positive, they may also need support. Be ready with information that people can read, phone numbers for support groups, and contact information for other people in your support network.

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Telling your kids you are HIV-positive

A major concern for mothers with HIV is whether to tell their kids about their HIV and when and how they will do it.

Here are some tips for talking to your kids about your HIV status:

  • Take care of yourself first. Make sure you have the help you need and are in control of your feelings before you talk to your children about your HIV.
  • Know your child. Is your child mature enough to handle the information?
  • Educate yourself about HIV so you can talk to your children about the illness.
  • Plan for what you're going to say ahead of time. Write out some notes to help keep you on track.
  • Plan the time and place where you will tell the news.
  • Make sure your children know they can't "catch" HIV from living with you. Kids are likely to worry about their own health.
  • After you tell your children, get them additional support. They could talk to a health professional who can talk more with your children about HIV.
  • If you have children who were born before you were diagnosed, and you do not have a previous negative HIV test from after the time of their birth, your children will need to be tested for HIV. Many people can be without symptoms for a long time after they get infected with HIV. This is also true for children who may have been infected through mother-to-child transmission.

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Content last updated: July 01, 2011.

Resources last updated: July 01, 2011.

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