Trauma, Social Support and Personal Growth: Implications for Living With HIV
July 17, 2017
Trauma and its effects are no strangers to people living with HIV. A life-threatening diagnosis, virologic failure or even an HIV-positive test result can be traumatic and, over time, lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a very serious psychiatric diagnosis.
PTSD is a delayed or prolonged reaction to trauma with three types of effects: 1) intrusion, such as recurring dreams, thoughts, perceptual experiences; 2) arousal, such as increased vigilance, fear, impatience and difficulty concentrating; and 3) avoidance, such as efforts to get rid of or numb negative thoughts and emotions.
PTSD increases the potential for other depressive and anxiety disorders, and its prevalence is known to be higher among persons living with HIV than the general population, and especially women, for whom the rate of HIV-related PTSD is estimated to be 30% -- five times that of women without HIV.
While a traumatic experience is always disturbing and potentially catastrophic, some individuals are able to respond in ways that are positive, profound and life altering. This effect, called post-traumatic growth (PTG), is characterized by positive changes in self-perception, improved relations with others, renewed appreciation of life or changes in spiritual beliefs following a traumatic event. Individuals who experience PTG may even achieve higher levels of functioning than before the trauma. It is important to note that the central concept of PTG does not not minimize the negative impact of a traumatic event but rather identifies individual attempts to deal with a crisis that have a positive effect.
Several factors, including social support, mitigate the effects of trauma and promote PTG. A recent study of Polish emergency workers who experienced trauma offers clues to how specific types of support, along with their timing, can improve an individual's response to trauma. This is highly relevant for people living with HIV/AIDS, who experience much higher levels of PTSD and for whom the concept of PTG holds promise.
Here are specific interventions from the Polish study and other literature that promote post-traumatic growth:
Living with HIV creates abundant opportunities for traumatic reactions and other co-occurring mental health disorders, but we are discovering that the attitudes we bring to the situation, along with various skills, can increase the chances not only of improved health outcomes but also increased personal growth.
David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is a substance abuse expert, certified sex therapist and clinical hypnotherapist in private practice in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is the author of Lust, Men and Meth: A Gay Man's Guide to Sex and Recovery.
This article was provided by TheBody.
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