A study claims that ensuring healthcare staff have a better understanding of the psychological, social, and physical effects of shame on HIV patients will improve their medical treatment.
Doctors and nurses should be more aware of how stigma and shame can contribute to poor health, particularly in the case of chronic illnesses like HIV.
Shame can operate as a persistent stressor in the body, causing psychobiological alterations that might worsen health ailments. It can also result in a variety of behaviours and results that can have a negative impact on medical therapy.
“If we want to understand how health-related stigma, and its related social phenomena, are experienced by an individual and how this might impact on health-related behavior and health outcomes, then we must understand how stigma-related shame is experienced.
“Theorizing the potential for shame, or shame anxiety, as a structural possibility in experiences of stigma may be a powerful means to understand the mechanisms through which stigma can cause distress and exacerbate negative health outcomes.”
Professor Dolezal examined how Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas publicly disclosed his status as HIV-positive in 2019. He decided to make a public statement because there was a possibility that his HIV status would be revealed without his consent.
In his emotive testimony in a Twitter video and subsequent media interviews and a BBC documentary he described what it is like to live with the fear of being found out. He described his reasons for concealing his illness, and the anticipated consequences of its revelation, and how he wanted to discuss his HIV diagnosis to lift the burden of shame.
The study, published in the journal lambda nordica, argues that when people feel the threat of shameful exposure regarding their HIV status they can feel “immobilized” because their possibilities for action, engagement, and sociality may be reduced. They can be disempowered socially and politically. This is compounded by intense negative feelings regarding oneself and one’s social standing.