Men With HIV Combat Stigma, Stress With Mom's Love
June 30, 2005
Most HIV-positive men share their health status with their mothers despite fears of stigma, researchers found. When deciding whether to tell, men's need for their mothers' emotional and socioeconomic support outweighed fears, Connie Shehan, a University of Florida sociologist, and colleagues found. The US Department of Veterans Affairs funded the study.
"People who have HIV or AIDS often are pessimistic about what response they'll get - they underestimate the extent to which their loved ones will come forward and provide support," said Shehan. "But we found that the majority of those who told felt that their mothers responded in a really helpful and supportive way."
Connie Uphold, a coauthor of the study and a research health scientist at the Malcolm Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center's HIV Clinic, said mothers are often the main source of support for HIV-positive children. The researchers interviewed 166 HIV-positive men from a mix of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. On average they were 44 years old, but ages ranged from 20-70. Participants talked about whether they had confided their health status to their mothers and how they had likely been exposed to HIV, and they evaluated variables such as the need for support and perception of acceptance by their families.
Seventy-five percent of the men chose to disclose their HIV status to their mothers, weighing many factors including how they contracted HIV, the disease's progression, and their own age and education level. The study found that men who contracted HIV through homosexual activity were much more likely to confide in their mothers than men exposed through heterosexual contact, blood transfusions, or drug use. Men who suffered more severe and frequent symptoms were more likely to confide, possibly because of an increased need for support, Uphold said. Men with more education were less likely to disclose their status than those with little education, Uphold added, saying that might be an economic effect.
"When you're more highly educated, you're likely to have better resources, better coping skills, maybe better income," Uphold explained. "So you might not need the support of your mother as much."
Older men were much less likely to confide in their mothers, investigators found, possibly because the mothers themselves were older and the men were concerned for their well-being. However, Shehan noted, for patients who do confide, new treatments that prolong life can make for a more reciprocal relationship with mothers who may be approaching their golden years.
"It's a chronic disease now; people live with it for a long time," Shehan said. "The men feel that their mothers' primary role is providing emotional support -- helping them get through the day, listening to them talk about their concerns. And the men help their mothers with other problems -- fixing their car, doing yard work. So there's this exchange going on."
Prior research has shown that patients who confide their HIV status to family and friends often feel less depressed and have a better quality of life, Uphold said. The researchers hope the current study will encourage clinicians and therapists to urge HIV-positive men to form a support network earlier in the course of the disease.
The full report, "To Tell or Not to Tell: Men's Disclosure of Their HIV-Positive Status to Their Mothers," was published in Family Relations (2005;54(2):184-196).