Effects of HIV on Families

HIV is a blood-borne illness that is most commonly spread via high-risk sexual activities and use of illegal drugs. It can also be transmitted from a mother to child during the childbirth, and via blood products. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 40,000 people are infected by this deathly virus in the United States every year. Yet, it is increasingly recognized that HIV does not only affect individuals, but the whole family.

Portrait of a mother and son together (Image: JackF/iStock/Getty Images)

Financial Effects

The financial burden of HIV can be enormous on a family, especially if several family members are sick. Many HIV patients also report losing their jobs after being diagnosed with HIV. The combination of decreasing income and increasing health-care costs may prevent the family living with HIV from getting their basic needs met. Because the parents may not feel well enough to work, the children are often burdened with growing expectations. They may need to help around the house or get a part-time job, depending on their age, says the United Nations.

Social Isolation

A family affected by HIV tend to isolate socially says Dr. Li Li and colleagues in a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies published in February 2009. This social isolation is even greater if both parents are HIV-positive. Family members may even state that they feel distant from one another: Chronic illness in a family member can change family roles, causing guilt in the sick person and anger and blame in the other family members. Dr. R.L. Sowell and colleagues reported in a study published in the journal AIDS Care in October of 1997 that families affected by HIV often face stigma and discrimination in the United States. This leads to social isolation and can significantly reduce their quality of life.

Unmet Mental Health Needs

A family struggling with HIV can focus so much on the physical illness that they ignore the signs of mental health problems in the family members. Both the HIV-positive individual and his family experience a great deal of psychological stress. This stress has been reported to be even greater in HIV families as compared to families facing other chronic illnesses, says Dr. Li, although the disclosure of HIV status to other people seems to reduce this stress somewhat. The American Psychology Association states that children affected by HIV often suffer from anxiety, depression, and engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sexual activities. Frequently, the psychological problems of HIV families are not diagnosed or threaded.

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