The role of social support in coping with HIV/AIDS
The terminal nature of HIV has been a source of profound despair in modern civilization. The brutal effects of the virus are untreatable and as a result have forced interventionists to seek other methods of helping patients who have been infected by the disease. Psychologists have sought ways of improving the mental state of patients; at the forefront of this particular research field is the role of social support in coping with HIV. Social support has largely been believed to have a positive effect on the mental well-being of people, not only HIV patients, but humans in general. Therefore it makes sense that such a strategy might blight the role of such a chronic disease slightly. However it is worth noting that support might not always be best suited for an infected individual. In this essay I will explore the various implications (positive as well as negative) of social support in the context of an HIV-infected human being, while additionally considering other factors such as the stigma associated with this disease. The essay will also consider the limitations of social support by referring to insubstantial research scopes, gender differences, culture differences etc. However it will indicate that in the majority of instances, social support is a vital means of buffering the chronic strains of HIV. Living with HIV can be life-altering and stressful. When patients initially discover that they have contracted the disease they go through very strenuous emotions. They initially feel anger, shock and experience fear of isolation from family and close friends. Experiencing such emotions increases the risk of depression (American Psychiatric Association, (2008, December 17th), http://www.psychiatry.org/hiv-and-aids). Therefore, the value of someone who acts as a social crutch during this initial phase is immense. After the initial diagnoses the HIV-infected person will experience other tribulations that might invoke depression. Changes in lifestyle, roles with regard to the family, financial issues and employment (in particular job loss due to illness) are often the sources of profound and sometimes intolerable stress (T. Bekele et al., 2013). All of these changes are inevitable after being diagnosed with HIV, therefore the only way in which the effect can be negated is through strong social support structures. Social support refers to the supportive functions performed for the HIV-infected individual by close friends or caring relatives (Y. Mizuno et al., 2003 as cited in Thoits, 1993). According to Y. Mizuno et al 2003, there are three kinds of social support; emotional support refers to sympathy, belief reaffirmation and caring for the person. Informational support refers to advising and providing crucial information to the individual, while instrumental support can be described as the assistance with tangible needs like sustenance. Perceived or received social support is believed to influence health in two ways: the main effects model and the stress-buffering model. The main effect or ‘‘direct effect’’ model implies that social support makes a direct contribution to one’s well-being, whether a stress is present or not (T. Bekele et al., 2013). In the stress-buffering model, social support is believed to have an ‘indirect effect’ on health through its role in reducing stressors and their detrimental effects on health either by preventing a potential stressor from being perceived as stressful or by reducing the severity of the reaction to stressors (Cohen & Wills, 1985). The positive effects of social support on HIV-infected people have been countlessly proven. It has been established that if HIV-infected individuals perceived social support to be available the less physical strains, hopelessness and depression they experienced (Green, 1993). Multiple research studies conducted on this topic have demonstrated that a link exists between high levels of received or...
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