By Jeannie Wraight and David Miller
If someone you care about has recently tested positive for HIV, you may be at a loss concerning how to help him/her. There are no how-to books or cookie-cutter approaches, but we would like to offer some ideas for how you can come alongside and support him/her.
For most people, an HIV diagnosis is an extremely emotional, life-changing and traumatic event. Feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anger, disappointment and sadness are intertwined with a sudden confrontation with one’s own mortality. Almost every aspect of a person’s life may seem suddenly unstable. The present and future of personal health, intimate and social relationships, community standing, job security, and financial viability all seem at risk. The lingering stigma that is still attached to HIV adds another complicating layer to an already overwhelming situation.
It is not uncommon for people to want to isolate themselves, so a strong support system is often a Godsend. Here are five things you can do as “my brother’s/sister’s keeper” to help someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV:
1. Offer your unconditional support. Let him/her know that you are there for him/her and you will stand by him/her and not leave him/her to face life alone.
2. You will experience your own distress at your friend’s new predicament during this time. Try to separate any turmoil you may be feeling from your interactions with the person as much as possible, at least until they have gotten a grasp on their own situation.
3. You will both likely experience sadness, disappointment, anger and/or fear. Consider going together and speaking to a pastor, therapist or another professional that can help you deal with the personal struggles you are facing. It’s important to deal with the new realities and deep feelings, but remember, the person who is newly diagnosed needs you to be strong, non-judgemental and full of faith and strength in order to face tomorrow.
4. Educate yourself. There is a ton (and we mean A TON) of information on the internet about HIV. Start with the basics at the Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/hiv/, and Kaiser Family Foundation, www.kff.org/hivaids. www.TheBody.com is an excellent and reliable source of information regarding all aspects of HIV. For your soul-health and a faith perspective, try Saddleback Church’s www.hivaidsinitiative.com. Always search for the most current information you can find. Millions of people have travelled this same road, so there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.
Most questions you or the person you care about may have regarding health, medication, health insurance, employment, legal issues, government assistance etc. have been asked and answered, and here is some information will help guide you:
5. Understand and assure the person who is newly diagnosed that HOPE is greater than HIV. HIV is no longer a death sentence. Yes, life is going to change, but that does not have to be a horrible thing. A person living with HIV can thrive in a long, happy and productive life with the help of a good doctor, a drug regimen that best suits the HIV positive person’s needs, a clear and educated understanding of the virus, a commitment to take care of oneself, and a confident and hopeful attitude.
Finally, receiving an HIV diagnosis can be a very difficult thing. The support of a caring family member or friend like you can make all the difference in the world, and you can be the catalyst to a bright, healthy future for your friend.