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HIV stigma refers to irrational or negative attitudes, behaviors, and judgments towards people living with or at risk of HIV. It can negatively affect the health and well-being of people living with HIV by discouraging some individuals from learning their HIV status, accessing treatment, or staying in care. HIV stigma can also affect those at risk of HIV by discouraging them from seeking HIV prevention tools and testing, and from talking openly with their sex partners about safer sex options.

Populations disproportionately affected by HIV are also often affected by stigma due to, among other things, their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, drug use, or sex work.

HIV stigma drives acts of discrimination in all sectors of society, including health care, education, the work place, the justice system, families, and communities.

Breaking down HIV stigma is a critical part of ending the HIV epidemic.

What Is Internalized Stigma for People with HIV?

Internalized stigma is when a person with HIV experiences negative feelings or thoughts about themselves due to their HIV status. Almost 8 in 10 adults with HIV receiving HIV medical care in the United States report feeling internalized HIV-related stigma, according to a CDC study. Internalized stigma can lead to depression, isolation, and feelings of shame, and can affect individuals’ ability to stay adherent to their HIV medication.

You might be wondering how you can address an issue as complex as HIV stigma. But there are many small things you can do that will make a big difference.

If each of us commits to making positive changes in our families and communities, we can help end HIV stigma and work to stop HIV together. Here are two resources to get you started:

  • Stigma Language Guide. The words we use matter. Learn how to talk openly about HIV and stigma in a way that can help empower those living with HIV.

  • Stigma Scenarios: Support in Action. Read through examples of situations that show how HIV stigma can happen in any setting and learn ways to take action.

  • Pledge Cards: A Commitment to Action. Make a pledge to help stop HIV stigma. Download our pledge cards to customize and post on your website, blog, social media channels, and other digital outlets.

Stigma Language Guide

Know how talk about HIV to avoid stigma

The words we use matter. Keep in mind that:

  • When talking about HIV, certain words and language may have a negative meaning for people at high risk for HIV or those who have HIV.

  • We can do our part to stop HIV stigma by being intentional and thoughtful when choosing our words, and choosing to use supportive—rather than stigmatizing— language when talking about HIV.

Consider using the preferred terms below to avoid promoting stigma and misinformation around HIV

Resources: information; prevention, testing and medical support

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