Social support from peers living with HIV is of a different nature to the support of people who do not have the lived experience of growing older with the virus, according to a recent sociological study.
The researchers talked to people over the age of 50, living with HIV in the UK. The people they talked to said that although they valued the support of their family and friends who don’t have HIV, they also needed to be in contact with people who are ‘in the same boat’ and who really ‘know what it’s like to live with HIV’. Here are two quotes from the interviews.
“It doesn’t mean relationships with non-HIV friends are any less strong, because they’re not... They’re all supportive, but the support from people who are HIV is usually a little more on the nose, a bit more aligned... If someone’s going through or has already gone through the same thing as you, then you’re going to attune and have a better empathy for those people, and vice versa.”
“I think to actually be able to empathise properly, you need to be in the same boat. It’s very easy to say ‘Well, you know, it must be difficult to live with it’ or ‘It must be easy to live with it’; if you aren’t in that situation, then it’s not so easy.”
While many of the gay men interviewed were able to get support in an informal way from friends living with HIV, heterosexual men and women were less likely to have known other people living openly with HIV before their diagnosis. They had to reach out beyond their friendship and social networks to support groups and HIV organisations.
However, there have been dramatic cuts to funding for HIV-specific services in the UK, due both to austerity and to a policy that generic services should be able to deal with the needs of people living with HIV – so it is likely to be increasingly hard for people to find and access HIV support groups.
To find out more, read ‘Connecting with others’ in NAM’s booklet ‘HIV, stigma & discrimination’.