Understanding the impact of HIV diagnosis amongst gay men in Scotland: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

Psychol Health. 2011 Oct;26(10):1378-91. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2010.551213. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • HIV Seropositivity / psychology*
  • Health Policy
  • Homosexuality, Male / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narration
  • Scotland
  • Social Identification
  • Social Stigma
  • Social Support