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Disclosure in the workplace
Dec 2, 2012

My son confided to a lady coworker that he was HIV positive. Now he suddenly feels very isolated and feels this lady has told others. I was trying to be positive and told him it's all in his mind. He tells me that no one wants to approach him anymore. All he wants to do is stay home and stay by me. I love that, but I know is not good for him. What does he need to do?

Response from Dr. Fawcett

I'm sorry to hear about your son's situation. Disclosure is an extremely complicated process, and even more so in the workplace. It is entirely possible your son's perceptions are correct, so telling him it's in his mind isn't helpful. Avoiding the workplace is also, as you note, not the solution.

Stigma can be both enacted (meaning we experience it) or perceived (meaning it is anticipated or believed to have occurred). In either case it badly hurts. It's impossible to be directive about what actions your son should take at work. I would encourage him to connect with other HIV-positive peers in a support group. Sharing this experience with others who have, no doubt, gone through similar situations will be very empowering for him. I also believe such groups can have great wisdom. Once he feels more supported and self-accepting he will be in a better position to decide what action to take.

Good luck to you and your son,

-David



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