Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Psychosocial Issues Surrounding HIV Infection That Affect Rehabilitation

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Psychosocial Issues Surrounding HIV Infection That Affect Rehabilitation

Article excerpt


The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a serious illness and a public health crisis that merits the concern of everyone. People with AIDS come from subgroups of the population who previously have had little contact with professionals in the helping fields. These professionals have had very little need to deal with their own attitudes about these groups of individuals. People in the helping professions must begin to deal with their feelings in order to provide services efficiently, competently, empathetically, and in a non-judgmental manner.

The Future

Experts predict that in the next few years AIDS will surpass heart disease and will be second only to accidents as a major cause of death. The misconceptions surrounding AIDS, its cause and modes of transmission, continue to play important roles in how HIV positive individuals and persons with AIDS are perceived by the public and helping professionals (Armstrong, 1987). Statistical predictions indicate that the number of cases of HIV will continue to increase substantially. As the diseases invade the heterosexual community, it is becoming more than a problem of "gays". There is very likely a danger of hysterical public action that will occur if the epidemic increases to any great extent in the heterosexual population. It was only a short time ago that the majority of Americans felt that the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was not their problem but a problem of that other group (Archer, 1989; Fleck, 1986).

Literature Review -- Issues

The psychosocial issues, needs and concerns of individuals who are HIV positive are complex and are connected with social and political factors that are a part of the fear and anxiety about contagion and transmission of the virus. These issues include sexuality, discrimination, death as an inevitable disease outcome, body image, relationships with friends and family, different life styles, HIV testing, and homophobia.

Individuals who are HIV positive and asymptomatic live with a fear of becoming ill and those diagnosed with AIDS must deal with their own imminent death. The issues that will be discussed in this section include the effects of AIDS on groups that are already stigmatized, and death as a disease outcome, with its resulting mechanisms of coping.


The current AIDS epidemic has had a great impact on public attitudes toward homosexuality. Homosexuality is still a moral and religious issue to many and it is considered by a significant number of Americans as aberrant behavior (Viele, Dodd, & Morrison, 1984). These attitudes have led to overt discrimination, social ostracism, and deprivation of various rights such as housing, employment, transportation, and funeral services. Parochial attitudes have led to the nick-naming of the disease as the "gay plague" or "WOG" (Wrath of God) (Douglas, Kalman & Kalman, 1985). The mortality of the disease leaves professionals in the helping fields with feelings of helplessness. Katz, Hass, Parisi, Astone and McEvaddy (1987) reported on perceptions of cancer, AIDS, cardiac and diabetic patients. Cancer was perceived as the most painful, but AIDS was perceived as the most deadly. AIDS patients were seen as being the most responsible for their illness, they received the most negative worthiness ratings and they have been strongly rejected socially. It is interesting to note that this study reported that cancer was the most feared disease. Fear of contracting AIDS appears to be less important than the public's hostility against persons with AIDS as social deviants. The mode of disease transmission generates anxiety that is so intense that the emergence of compassion and empathy is prevented (Stevens & Muskin, 1987).

Groups Affected and Disease Characteristics

Individuals who are diagnosed with AIDS are generally young. Forty-seven percent (47%) of these individuals are in their thirties and 22% are in their twenties or forties. …

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