Self-Esteem and HIV: Going Beyond the Stigma

Have you ever thought about the relationship between self-esteem and HIV? In this article, we'll talk about it.
Self-Esteem and HIV: Going Beyond the Stigma

Last update: 10 October, 2020

Self-esteem is a key factor in psychological well-being and health. However, there are specific groups that, due to a certain condition, are stigmatized and rejected. As a result, this negatively affects their self-esteem. This is the case with self-esteem and HIV.

Thankfully, this is occurring a little less now with people who have HIV, but the problem still exists. Take a moment to reflect. Would you feel comfortable working with a person with HIV? How would you feel if your son or daughter had to share a classroom with a child with HIV?

If you’re familiar with the disease, it’s more than likely that these questions wouldn’t concern you. However, the recent survey results in one European country indicate that this is a serious problem in society. In this survey, more than half of the population said they would be willing to change jobs or change their child’s schooling for the reason mentioned above.

What effects can stigma and prejudice have on the self-esteem of people with HIV? Can self-esteem prevent risky behaviors associated with HIV? Let’s take a closer look.

A sad woman.

Self-esteem and stigma

Stigma and prejudice can be very real, due to the perceived threat to health, and also in a symbolic way. It can be symbolic in the sense that HIV has been associated, since its origins, with behavior that goes against certain ideologies and that has traditionally been considered immoral.

Much of the fear and rejection comes from ignorance. However, this isn’t the only explanation. Because HIV infection is associated with preventable behavior, some people take the liberty of blaming people with HIV. They even go as far as to believe that they got what they deserved.

We need to ask ourselves what’s more immoral. Is it very behavior that some people describe as immoral? Or is it to actually believe that a person deserves to have this particular disease? Let’s not forget that, when this disease first came to our attention, it was associated with homosexuals and drug addicts.

The surveys speak for themselves

The results of a study conducted by the Spanish Interdisciplinary AIDS Society are startling. They indicate that more than half of the population feels uncomfortable in the presence of a person with HIV and would try to avoid contact with them.

This, of course, will result in discriminatory behavior and attitudes. These include being in favor of publicly naming people with HIV in order for people to be able to avoid them.

This fear probably stems from a lack of information about this disease. Seventeen percent of the population believed that they could get HIV from sharing public bathrooms. In addition to this, up to 34 percent believed you could catch it from mosquito bites.

It’s important to get the correct information. If we don’t, it’ll lead to misconceptions about how the virus passes from one person to another. And, consequently, these misconceptions will create prejudice, stigma, and discrimination.

Associated consequences

Prejudice and stigma put many people at risk, especially by preventing them from having social support. This can lead to people with HIV feeling ashamed of their status. They can blame themselves, and, as a result, this can lead to self-stigmatization.

These people’s self-esteem may be extremely low, which can lead to fairly high levels of anxiety and stress. If a decline in self-esteem isn’t detected early on, then a depressive disorder may develop.

In the most serious cases, a person may consider that the only way to end their suffering is by committing suicide. It’s a matter of great concern that suicide is 66 times more common in the HIV-positive population than in the general population.

Another serious and dangerous consequence of low self-esteem, as well as other emotional disorders, is not adhering to the antiretroviral treatment. This can be very common in these patients. In fact, with them, experts will carry out a psychological intervention to increase the capacity to adhere to the treatment. This is because, for the treatment to be effective, 95-100 percent adherence is required.

A sad man.

Self-esteem and risky behavior

On the one hand, studies indicate that a low level of self-esteem is associated with early sexual activity. In addition to this, they’ll have a greater number of sexual partners, difficulties in sexual assertiveness, and a greater frequency of risky sexual practices.

On the other hand, higher self-esteem scores were related to positive attitudes towards condoms and a greater perception of effectiveness in using them.

However, a third trend suggests that young people with high self-esteem may engage in risky sexual behaviors because they consider that they aren’t vulnerable to the risks.

We now know the importance of self-esteem in the development of sexuality. In the case of today’s article, we’ve specifically looked at preventing risky behaviors associated with this, and with the prevention of HIV infection. Our conclusion is that, in addition to offering young people adequate sexual education, we need to include a module for working on self-esteem in these programs.

Regarding how our attitude can affect the self-esteem of people with HIV, we need to offer truthful information about the disease, increase social awareness, and foster tolerance and understanding. The goal? To end the stigma and discrimination that’s so damaging to these people.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.



  • Ruiz-Palomino, E., Ballester-Arnal, R., Gil-Llario, M. D., & Giménez-García, C. (2017). El papel de la autoestima en la prevención del VIH de jóvenes españoles. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology2(1), 15-21.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.