Depression is not an inevitable outcome of disclosure avoidance: HIV stigma and mental health in a cohort of HIV-infected individuals from Southern India

Psychol Health Med. 2011 Jan;16(1):74-85. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2010.521568.


Previous research has shown that HIV stigma in India can be characterized by a framework dividing manifestations into enacted (discrimination), vicarious (hearing stories of discrimination), felt normative (perceptions of stigma's prevalence), and internalized stigma (personal endorsement of stigma beliefs). We examined whether this framework could explain associations among stigma, efforts to avoid HIV serostatus disclosure, and depression symptoms in a cohort of 198 HIV-infected individuals from Southern India who were followed up for one year as part of a study of antiretroviral adherence. Prior studies had suggested that disclosure avoidance was a primary outcome of stigma and that impaired well-being was a primary outcome of disclosure avoidance. Analyses from our longitudinal research revealed that the pattern of associations among stigma, disclosure avoidance, and depression symptoms remained consistent over time. Enacted and vicarious stigmas were correlated with felt normative stigma beliefs. In turn, felt normative stigma was correlated with disclosure avoidance. And, enacted stigma, internalized stigma, and disclosure avoidance were all associated with depression symptoms. However, even though the overall framework held together, internalized stigma and depression symptoms dropped significantly over time while other components remained unchanged. These findings suggest that, although HIV stigma may limit disclosure, it does not invariably lead to psychological maladjustment. Amidst ongoing perceptions and experiences of stigma, HIV-positive individuals can achieve significant improvements in their acceptance of the disease and in mental well-being.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Young Adult