Objectives: Although a wide literature details the psychological impact of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosis, it predates the introduction of effective treatment for HIV (i.e. anti-retroviral therapies, ARTs). This article explores the psychological impact of HIV diagnosis in post-ART accounts. This is important, given the recent policy developments which focus upon increasing HIV testing and thus diagnoses.
Design: This study presents a qualitative exploration of the experiential accounts of HIV-positive gay men living in Scotland. A total of 14 HIV-positive gay men took part in open-ended interviews.
Methods: Interpretative phenomenological analysis was employed to identify recurrent themes across the interviews.
Results: Our analysis focuses upon the participants' struggles in adjusting to their HIV status. Diagnosis was a deeply shocking and unexpected experience. Stigma and fear of prejudice dominated their accounts. HIV was understood, variously, as a shameful, fatal and life-changing condition. Overall, within these accounts there was little sense of HIV normalisation.
Conclusions: In Scotland, where HIV prevalence is low, and where no accessible HIV-positive sub-culture exists, there is on-going psychological distress and morbidity amongst gay men testing HIV positive. As HIV-related policy increasingly focuses on increasing rates of antibody testing, there is a need to reduce the psychosocial costs associated with HIV-positive diagnoses.