Posttraumatic Growth Boosts Life Satisfaction in Patients with HIV

DECEMBER 12, 2018
Jared Kaltwasser
ALT textBridget Dibb, PhD, MSc
Posttraumatic growth is positively associated with life satisfaction in patients with HIV, even after controlling for stigma and disclosure regret, according to new research.

Posttraumatic growth is the process by which people develop new understandings of themselves and re-evaluate their lives as a result of a traumatic event, such as an HIV diagnosis. This growth can improve quality of life. However, HIV diagnoses are also associated with consequences—including stigma and regret about diagnosis disclosure—which can have negative psychological impacts.

While a significant amount of research backs up the idea that posttraumatic growth can have a positive impact on the lives of people living with HIV (PLWH), little research has been done to understand the relationships between posttraumatic growth, stigma, and disclosure regret.

In an effort to change this, Bridget Dibb, PhD, MSc, a health psychologist at the University of Surrey asked 73 patients with PLWH to complete a survey asking about a variety of factors. Life satisfaction, health status, depression, posttraumatic growth, disease severity, perceived stigma, disclosure regret, and demographics included the factors. All involved patients in the study had disclosed their HIV status to at least 1 other person.

After analyzing the data and controlling for stigma and other factors, Dibb found posttraumatic growth still had a positive impact on life satisfaction.

“The results show that individuals with HIV go through a process of finding meaning of their situation, and this is important as it is associated with perceptions of life satisfaction,” Dibb told MD Magazine. “This information can be used to inform interventions for people with HIV.”

The results support the idea that psychological wellbeing and perceptions of one’s own health are associated with life satisfaction in PLHIV. Dibb said clinicians should take into account the importance of posttraumatic growth and mental health generally when treating PLWH.

“Posttraumatic growth is part of the adjustment process and knowing the level of its importance is important for clinicians and/or people working with/caring for people with HIV,” she said. “Awareness of this association will allow clinicians and family members to be aware of how people with HIV deal with HIV.”

One way clinicians can help, Dibb wrote, is by helping patients think through how and when to disclose their diagnosis, and to whom. Improving disclosure experiences would decrease the likelihood of disclosure regret and the negative consequences associated with it.

In the particular study population, stigma did not emerge as a significant predictor of life satisfaction. However, Dibb cautioned that these results should not be interpreted as indicating that stigma doesn’t matter. She notes that the purpose of the study was not to gauge the impact of stigma, but rather to understand the impact of posttraumatic growth after controlling for other factors like stigma.

“Stigma has been shown by other studies to have a large negative impact on the lives of people with HIV and my results do not refute this,” she said.

The study, titled, “Assessing Stigma, Disclosure Regret, and Posttraumatic Growth in People Living with HIV,” was published in AIDS and Behavior.

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