"It took a piece of me": initial responses to a positive HIV diagnosis by Caribbean people in the UK

AIDS Care. 2010 Dec;22(12):1493-8. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2010.482125.


How do people respond to the news that they are HIV positive? To date, there have been few published qualitative studies of HIV diagnosis experiences, and none focusing on Caribbean people. Twenty-five HIV-positive Caribbean people in London, UK, related their diagnosis experience and its immediate aftermath in semi-structured interviews. Diagnosis with HIV caused profound shock and distress to participants, as they associated the disease with immediate death and stigmatisation. The respondents struggled with "biographical disruption", the radical disjuncture between life before and after diagnosis, which led them into a state of liminality, as they found themselves "betwixt and between" established structural and social identities. Respondents were faced with multifaceted loss: of their known self, their present life, their envisioned future and the partner they had expected to play a role in each of these. A minority of accounts suggest that the way in which healthcare practitioners delivered the diagnosis intensified the participants' distress. This research suggests that healthcare practitioners should educate patients in specific aspects of HIV transmission and treatment, and engage closely with them in order to understand their needs and potential reactions to a positive diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Caribbean Region / ethnology
  • Female
  • HIV Seropositivity / diagnosis*
  • HIV Seropositivity / ethnology
  • HIV Seropositivity / psychology*
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Truth Disclosure