Who should I tell?

Being open about having HIV can be liberating. Telling a few people you trust can also build stronger relationships and provide you with great support. Still, you don’t need to rush out and tell people.

It is important to have people you can talk to about your HIV but it is also a good idea to try to keep some control over where that information goes. If you need to, give yourself some time to adjust to the news before you decide to tell your friends or family.

If you think a person may have a bad reaction to the news, you may want to wait until you are feeling more confident and think you can handle it, or you may decide not to tell them. Ask yourself:

  • Who can I trust with this information?
  • Who will offer me the support that I need?
  • Who will be able to accept this information without judging me?
  • Who will respect my privacy and be able to keep this information confidential?

Once you have told someone, you cannot ‘untell’ them. If you don’t want everyone knowing that you have HIV, be careful not to tell people who gossip. When you do tell someone, you can ask them to keep your confidence although that can be stressful for them. You could ask them to be careful who they tell, let them know if you’ve told anyone else, or suggest other people they could turn to for support. People with HIV often become ‘the educator’ when telling their friends about their HIV diagnosis. That can become exhausting but you will probably know a lot more about HIV than they do and it is important they have a good understanding of what HIV infection means (and what it means to you!) so they can support you.

If you can’t work out who you can talk to or if it seems too soon to tell anyone, consider talking to a peer support worker or counsellor at your local HIV organisation. They can provide support and can also help you work out who to tell and how you might tell them.

You just feel really different. It was when I started to meet other positive women that things started to change.

You do not have to disclose your HIV status to your employer or work colleagues. You also do not need to tell your doctor, dentist or other health professionals although it is often important to tell people providing medical treatment about your HIV infection as it gives them a clearer picture about your health. Seemingly unrelated conditions may be caused by your HIV infection. Any drugs prescribed for another condition may impact your HIV and/or interact with HIV treatment. It is a good idea to tell your dentist as HIV can affect your gums. Providing full health information to your healthcare providers may prompt them to give you more information which you can use to make your own health related decisions.

Your HIV doctor can discuss your health with other health care workers directly involved in your HIV care. This is important because optimal care often relies on the expertise of different healthcare providers working in partnership. Your healthcare provider cannot reveal your HIV status to anyone else except in extreme and unusual circumstances, for example, if you are unconscious and requiring emergency medical care and your HIV status is relevant to that care. It is illegal to discriminate against a person with HIV, including in health care settings.