HIV Disclosure Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Theoretical Synthesis

AIDS Behav. 2017 Jan;21(1):1-11. doi: 10.1007/s10461-016-1453-3.


HIV disclosure can help people living with HIV to access social support, enhance antiretroviral adherence, facilitate engagement in care and reduce unprotected sex. Given interpersonal risks associated with HIV disclosure, however, anxiety about sharing one's status is common. To investigate anxiety about HIV disclosure in HIV-positive populations, we conducted a systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies, with 119 studies included. The review demonstrated that perceived interpersonal risks are associated with HIV disclosure and outlined evidence of associations with anxiety, fear and worry. We present a new cognitive model of HIV disclosure anxiety adapted from clinical theories of health and social anxiety, consistent with evidence from the review. The model attempts to explain the development and maintenance of anxiety in individuals whose functioning is most affected by concerns about sharing their status. Implications for helping people living with HIV struggling with significant levels of anxiety about HIV disclosure are discussed.

Keywords: Anxiety; Cognitive; Fear; HIV disclosure; Model.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence
  • Models, Psychological
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Social Stigma
  • Social Support
  • Unsafe Sex