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WHAT SPECIAL MENTAL SUPPORT WILL HE NEED???
Jul 25, 2000

My partner of several years has been diagnosed with HIV. I have been told that this will affect him greatly mentally. What special support should I seek for his care, and what can I expect from him emotionally?? How can I overcome amy social fears he faces, and do these social fears exist?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Like all other crises in life, a diagnosis of a life threatening illness will bring with it a host of strong feelings. This is a normal part of the adjustment, and may include anger, anxiety, depression, and fear in any combination. While it is important that you be aware of the reality that this will greatly impact his emotional life, it will also have an effect on you as the person who loves him.

Each of you need to take steps to take good care of your mental as well as physical health. This begins with doing a lot of talking with each other about how this news and all the developments along the way make each of you feel. Many couples find it useful to begin working with a couples therapist who is skilled in the issues of how HIV impacts upon a couple in addition to having an expertise in working with male couples. Either or both of you may find it helpful to do individual work with a mental health professional as well.

If you live in a region where there is an AIDS service organization both he as a person living with HIV and you as his care partner may find peer support groups help you adjust to the emotional roller coaster. There is a variety of options, and what is essential is that each of you as individuals and as a couple seek out the ones that will work for you.

When you ask "What special support should I seek for his care," I am concerned that you will take over the management of his care. This is a road to numerous resentments building up for both of you and ultimately a disaster. He is an adult who must assume responsibility for his own care, even if what he chooses to do or not do is different than how you want him to behave.

I am not sure what you mean by how can you overcome any social fears he faces? When you ask do these social fears exist, if you mean will there be individuals and institutions both in the general population as well as health care fields who will be afraid of being around a person with HIV, the sad answer is "yes." Once again you can not overcome or manage the reactions he will have living with HIV and other people's bigotry.

It sounds like you are a real "take charge" kind of person. Rein in all of your impulses to control what he does or how he reacts. You can not. All you can do is continue to love and support him by asking him about how he feels and then listening to him. If he wants a specific suggestion it is incumbent upon him to ask you for it. Both of you can find a lot of information and support on the various AIDS related web sites. Use them. Best of luck adjusting to the rocky road ahead.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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