Ontario HIV Stigma Index team publishes BMC paper on the health impacts of internalized HIV stigma and depression

Paper’s findings are a valuable contribution to the literature on HIV stigma

The Ontario HIV Stigma Index team’s latest paper is now live on BMC Public Health, titled, Impact of Experienced HIV Stigma on Health is Mediated by Internalized Stigma and Depression: Results from the People Living with HIV Stigma Index in Ontario.

HIV stigma is pervasive in Canada, but according to the paper’s authors, “While studies have consistently demonstrated that stigma negatively impacts health, there has been limited research on the mechanisms behind these effects.” Added REACH Nexus Director Dr. Sean B. Rourke, “This is critical to understand, so we know what we can do to make it better.”

The BMC paper, authored by REACH Nexus’s Jason M. Lo Hog Tian, James R. Watson, Sean B. Rourke, and other members of the Ontario HIV Stigma Index team, shares the results of a study with 724 participants that sought to identify which key dimensions of stigma have significant relationships with self-rated health.

The researchers found that experiencing discrimination or prejudice can lead to significant experiences of “internalized” stigma, in other words, feelings of guilt and shame for having HIV. Depression was also common: about 38% had at least moderately elevated symptoms, and there was a significant positive association between stigma and depression—when one goes up, so does the other.

Noted Rourke, “This study was unique because we were able to show for the first time that both depression and internalized stigma each contribute independently to reductions in overall health. This is important because it shows us that there may be multiple avenues for treatment to improve health, such as resiliency-based interventions and established treatments for depression.”

Knowing that ending HIV stigma is critical to ending HIV transmission in Canada, REACH Nexus leads multiple projects to counter HIV stigma, including the Canadian implementation of the HIV Stigma Index and The Positive Effect, an online anti-stigma initiative.

The BMC paper’s findings are a valuable contribution to the literature on HIV stigma and can be used to inform work that will improve people living with HIV’s health and well-being.

Read the full paper on the BMC website.