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Telling Others You’re HIV-Positive


How Do I Tell People I'm HIV-positive? continued...

Friends and family members. In a perfect world, these would be the easiest people to tell. In reality, they are sometimes the ones most hurt, most fearful, or most angry. And, it often feels as though there's more at stake if things don't go well. However, keeping a secret from those you love can be painful. Be prepared for many different types of reactions.

Children. When is the right time to tell your children? Consider their ages and personalities and whether or not they've had experiences with illness. It might be a good idea to get professional advice first. Be prepared for many questions:

    • Why did this happen?
    • Am I sick, too? Will I become sick?
    • Will you get better?
    • Who would I live with if you die?

Sex or needle-sharing partner. This is the person who may have infected you -- get your anger out of the way before you talk. Express how you feel, but stay calm. If you find it too difficult to tell this person yourself or you fear a reaction, you can enlist the help of your local public health department. Their staff can tell your past partners without giving your name. At the same time, they can offer counseling and testing.

Future sex partners. When it comes to relationships, timing is everything. The same could be said about the timing of telling someone you're HIV-positive. You won't want to be defined by it, but you will need to make sure you tell people you're dating before you have sex with them. And choosing a neutral location is better than waiting until you're naked and in bed.

Employer. You are not required to tell your employer you have HIV. But you'll have to if you need changes in your schedule or workload to accommodate your illness. Get a letter from your doctor first. You may also need to reveal that you're HIV positive on an application for Family and Medical Leave. Confirm with your employer that you want this kept confidential, which the law requires.

How Should I Prepare for Telling Someone I'm HIV-Positive?

Don't jump into telling other people you're HIV-positive without first preparing yourself:

  • Be prepared to give others an informational brochure or to send them to a Web site or hotline where they can learn more or get support for themselves.
  • Be ready for questions. Decide which questions you're comfortable answering.
  • Decide how much advice you want from others, then let them know if you just want them to listen instead.
  • Be prepared for a variety of reactions. Some may be shocked. Others may fear getting HIV from you. People who distance themselves from you at first may not do so out of a sense of betrayal or lack of caring -- it may be simply fear of losing you. They may just need some time to adjust.
  • Remember to make yourself a priority. You cannot control others' reactions. Have a support person lined up to call afterwards or even bring the person with you for the discussion. You might plan to spend the night at a friend's house that night or schedule a therapy session for the next day.
  • If you need more support beforehand, join a local HIV-positive support group, contact a local HIV/AIDS organization, or call the National AIDS Hotline (800-CDC-INFO). It's open 24 hours a day.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 17, 2014
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