Understanding the impact of HIV diagnosis amongst gay men in Scotland: An interpretative phenomenological analysis

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Objectives: Although a wide literature details the psychological impact of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosis, it predates the introduction of effective treatment for HIV (i.e. anti-retroviral therapies, ARTs). This article explores the psychological impact of HIV diagnosis in post-ART accounts. This is important, given the recent policy developments which focus upon increasing HIV testing and thus diagnoses. Design: This study presents a qualitative exploration of the experiential accounts of HIV-positive gay men living in Scotland. A total of 14 HIV-positive gay men took part in open-ended interviews. Methods: Interpretative phenomenological analysis was employed to identify recurrent themes across the interviews. Results: Our analysis focuses upon the participants' struggles in adjusting to their HIV status. Diagnosis was a deeply shocking and unexpected experience. Stigma and fear of prejudice dominated their accounts. HIV was understood, variously, as a shameful, fatal and life-changing condition. Overall, within these accounts there was little sense of HIV normalisation. Conclusions: In Scotland, where HIV prevalence is low, and where no accessible HIV-positive sub-culture exists, there is on-going psychological distress and morbidity amongst gay men testing HIV positive. As HIV-related policy increasingly focuses on increasing rates of antibody testing, there is a need to reduce the psychosocial costs associated with HIV-positive diagnoses.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1378-1391
Number of pages14
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


  • IPA, chronic illness, diagnosis, gay men, HIV, medicalisation