Life Living with hiv HIV Stigma Disclosing your HIV status to your friends Being diagnosed with HIV can be a very isolating experience and can seem like a lot to deal with alone. Talking to friends and having their support can help you come to terms with your status, provide you with a support network and give you an opportunity to educate someone about HIV. Who should you tell? “Remember that someone you regard as a valued friend is like a family member, but one of your own choosing.” Marc, 48. It’s up to you which of your friends you tell. There’s no obligation to tell anyone within your social circle. This is about you and who you think can provide you the support you want or need. Think about who you know that you trust or who has been there for you in the past. Perhaps you have a friend who has been through a similar health concern and they might better grasp what you are going through. What should you tell your friends? “Disclose to the people you trust and love first. It's hard, but these are usually the people who'll support you through the most difficult parts.” Stephen, 31. Tell your friend that you have something important to tell them. If you don’t want anyone else to know, tell your friend that what you’re going to tell them is in confidence. Make sure what you tell them is as straightforward and direct as possible. Perhaps you are HIV-Undetectable: make sure you explain what that means in the simplest way possible e.g. “I’m living with HIV and HIV-undetectable. That means the amount of HIV in my body is so low that I can’t pass on HIV to anyone else.” Tell your friend why you want them to know – if you need their support, tell them. Make sure you offer to answer any questions that might have about your status and tell them how much their support and friendship means to you. When should you tell your friends? “Do it only when you feel ready and feel that they will respect you for sharing your status.” Stephen, 45. You have no obligation to tell anyone, so only tell a friend when it feels natural for you – this could be straight away or maybe you need time to adjust. Remember, this is about your needs, not those of your friends. You are telling them so that they provide you support. Don’t feel guilty or let your friend make you feel guilty if you didn’t tell them about your diagnosis straight away: you’re not ‘hiding something’ by taking the time that you need. Where should you tell your friends? “It allows me to have open and frank conversations, to reduce any irrational fears friends may have about HIV, and allow them to make better and more informed decisions when it comes to their sex lives.” Dan, 44. Choose a setting that is comfortable for you, whether that is your home, a familiar hangout or your friend’s place. You may even prefer a public setting – just make sure you are comfortable and it’s in a place where you and your friend can have an easy discussion and listen to each other (a club might not be the best place for a heart-to-heart for example!) Why are you telling your friends? “There's an old saying that if your friends can't accept you for who you are then they're not your friends, I think that applies here too. Telling people may feel like coming out of the closet all over again but you'll be closer for it and it's important to have someone to talk to about your status should you need to.” Paul, 28. There are lots of potential reasons why you want to disclose your status to a friend: friends can offer you support, it can be a stepping stone to tell others (such as family or partners), you want advice or maybe you just want to be open about your status. Whatever your reason, don’t feel pressured. This is your news, your life and you can tell people in your own time. Just don't be afraid to be open about your feelings and don’t underestimate the value of the support a friend can provide. You can often readily tell friends things that are more difficult to discuss with family and partners. What if you feel like you can’t confide in your friends? If you feel like you can’t talk to your friends, family or a partner, there are support services available to provide help, advice or even if you just need someone to talk to: Contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221. Contact Positively UK on 020 7713 0444.