Finding out that you are HIV positive can be really overwhelming. Young people that got HIV at birth may have been told about it when they were little, others may have been told recently. Young people who got HIV through sex or needle use may have just found out after getting an HIV test. Either way, it is normal to have lots of feelings about being HIV positive, and to have a lot of different reactions.
One thing I know for sure is that young people who are HIV positive really need support. If you have an adult that you trust, that is a great place to start. You can also ask your doctor about support for young people living with HIV.
Talking to another person about their experience getting diagnosed and living with HIV can be very helpful. This is called “peer support” and it can give you a better idea of what to expect. If you’re interested, email or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933 and ask for a referral to the nearest peer support program. The counselors at family planning clinics (search clinics in your area) know a lot about HIV and can definitely help you out.
Check out the links section for other places you can get support.
Deciding who to tell (called “disclosure”)
There is no one best way to tell someone you have HIV, just as there is no sure way to know how they will react. But it can help to ask yourself a few questions first:
Who do I want to tell and why do I want them to know?
How much am I ready to share or are they ready to hear?
How will talking about my HIV affect me and how will it affect the people around me?
You may want to think about where to tell someone and when to tell them. Choose a place that is comfortable for you. There is no one right time to tell someone you have HIV; the right time is when you feel ready and safe.
Talking about having HIV can be stressful. While you may receive love and support from some of the people you tell, others may not be as accepting. Try to find someone that can support you through this difficult time of telling. If you have not told anyone yet, get support from your doctor, a peer, a counselor, or email or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933.
Disclosing your HIV status will also have an effect on the person or people you tell. People will react differently to the news. Some people may be OK right away, while others may react negatively or need some time to process what you have told them and to overcome fears or myths they have about HIV. Just like you, people you tell will need support too! Try to leave them brochures or books about HIV that they can look at later. Encourage them to call us, too!
Who Needs to Know
Telling people that you had sex with or shared needles with will allow them to get tested and seek medical care if required. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the counselors at many HIV testing sites can help you with this, either by coaching you in how to tell people or by doing it for you without using your name or any identifying information. This is called partner services. The counselors at the Sexual Health Helpline can connect you with a partner services provider – email or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933. It’s also very important to tell your doctors and other healthcare providers to ensure you receive appropriate care.
Who Does Not Need to Know
You do not have to tell everyone that you are HIV positive. In fact, you do not have to tell anyone. You do not have to tell your school or your employer that you are HIV positive. People with disabilities, including HIV, are protected from job discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Students in Massachusetts are protected from discrimination related to having HIV in schools.
In Massachusetts, you don’t legally have to tell anybody that you have HIV.But in some states you are required to tell people if you are going to be involved in an activity where HIV could be transmitted. The legal stuff can be confusing; if you have questions, you can email or call the GLAD Legal InfoLine at (617) 426-1350, weekdays from 1:30 - 4:30pm.
Who You May Want to Tell
A lot of people with HIV choose to talk about having HIV to close friends and family. For many, telling those closest to them provides them with both emotional and practical support.
Disclosure and Relationships
Young people living with HIV who are dating sometimes find it difficult to know how and when to disclose. Should you tell on the first date or only if the relationship is getting serious? The answer to these questions varies for different people. For some, it is easier to tell someone right away before they become very intimate. For others, it feels safer to wait until a trusting relationship is developed. Maria Talks can offer emotional support and coaching about talking to your partner about HIV. Feel free to Ask Maria or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933, or talk to your doctor.
Aunt Lucia has told me that the most important thing for young people living with HIV to know is that you can live a healthy life with HIV! Having HIV means making some changes in your life. Finding the right HIV doctor, staying in medical care, and taking medication if that is something you and your doctor decide on, are the most important things you can do to help yourself live a healthy life with HIV. There are lots of places in Massachusetts to get support and care specifically designed for young people living with HIV. Feel free to Ask Maria or call the Sexual Health Helpline at (877) MA-SEX-ED (877) 627-3933, or talk to your doctor.