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HIV/AIDS and Survivor's Guilt

Oct 15, 2006

My partner of 13 years is an 18-year survivor of HIV/AIDS. Until late November 2005, he had not had any serious opportunistic infections. However, beginning at that time he experienced a series of traumatic infections that brought him near death several times. By the grace of all the gods and no small amount of luck, he made it through and his labs are starting to rebound. However, he is now riddled with what I can only term survivors guilt. Im doing my best to get him professional help, but am having difficulty motivating him to assist in the selection of a therapist or to otherwise engage his life again. He only seems to want to talk to or interact with me. While flattered, I know that this is a problem far beyond my ability to deal with and am sincerely looking for assistance, if with nothing else in trying to get him motivated to get the professional assistance I know he needs.


Response from Dr. Horwath

I suppose you could refer to this as survivior's guilt, but it is way out of proportion to the situation. He has a serious illness and suffers greatly with it. His survival is hardly a cause for guilt.

When feelings of guilt are this pervasive, then it is part of a broader problem, probably of depression. He needs professional evaluation and treatment. You can best help him by explaining that this is not a simple emotional reaction, but an illness that needs treatment. Modern studies have clearly shown that depression is very much an illness like other diseases and requires evaluation and treatment. If he can see it in this light, maybe he can go for help.

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