Recognizing and addressing stigma
About 2.4 million people in the United States are living with hepatitis C. The true number is likely even higher because more than half of people with hepatitis C are unaware of it. The stigma surrounding this infection is one of the reasons many people avoid getting tested.
However, stigma does not always come from others. People can be stigmatized in the form of shame or embarrassment about their own health condition.
The stigma surrounding hepatitis C can harm personal relationships. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. And it can prevent people from getting the treatment they need to cure the disease.
Much of the stigma surrounding hepatitis C has to do with misunderstandings about how the virus is spread. It is transmitted from person to person through direct contact with blood carrying the hepatitis virus.
You cannot get Hep C from hugging, kissing, or sharing a drink with someone. Yet people who don’t understand the virus may be afraid of “catching it”.
This fear can lead people with hepatitis C to hide their diagnosis for fear of rejection.
Another part of the stigma stems from the association between hepatitis C and intravenous drug use. the
But that doesn’t mean everyone is exposed that way. And even if someone is exposed to the virus through drug use, they deserve support, not judgment.
People who have used drugs face the dual stigma of hepatitis C and drug addiction. Managing these health issues can lead to stress and loneliness. Finding support can be difficult.
A portion of people with hepatitis C also have HIV, a virus that comes with its own stigma. Hepatitis C and HIV are both spread through blood and are linked to intravenous drug use. People who have both conditions together often have low self-esteem and feel uncomfortable around others.
Stigma can come from any part of a person’s life, including family, friends and co-workers. It may even stem from the person’s feelings of shame or confusion about their diagnosis.
A lack of knowledge about the virus and how it spreads can increase stigma. Others may unknowingly ask hurtful questions such as “How did you get it?” or “Am I going to catch it?” This is why sharing factual information and raising awareness is important.
Those who fear that loved ones don’t understand hepatitis C may never disclose their diagnosis. Stigma can drive a wedge between friends, relatives and romantic partners. This can lead to loneliness and isolation.
A doctor may seem like the only person who would understand what it’s like to have hepatitis C. But even some doctors stigmatize their patients by blaming or humiliating them for behaviors that may have contributed to their status.
People experience a range of emotions after being diagnosed with hepatitis C. They may feel fearful or alone when they understand what the diagnosis means to them. Living with a chronic illness can affect self-esteem, mood and quality of life.
Stigma can add to the anxiety and stress of living with this condition. It can also prevent people with hepatitis C from getting the support they need to take care of themselves physically and emotionally.
The stigma surrounding hepatitis C prevents some people from getting tested. Those who avoid testing cannot get the treatment they need to prevent complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Even people who are diagnosed and undergoing treatment may not continue taking their medications if they don’t feel they are well supported.
Addressing stigma is a complex process. A
The researchers suggested a few possible reasons why a deeper understanding of the virus could lead to feeling more stigma. Among their reasons are:
- Learning more about the virus can also mean learning more about stereotypes and stigma, leaving people more aware of when they are perceived that way.
- Increased fear of stigma can cause people to keep their diagnosis a secret, eliminating opportunities for support.
- Fear of transmission to a loved one or complications of the disease can lead to internalized stigma or shame.
In order to meet the complex needs of people diagnosed with hepatitis C, researchers have suggested that in addition to treating the virus with medication, healthcare professionals should treat the person diagnosed with a psychosocial approach.
While it is important to educate those diagnosed about the virus, treatment, transmission, and other medical details, more attention needs to be devoted to clearing up misconceptions, exploring their beliefs about the virus and building support.
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, it is important to learn more about what it may mean from reliable sources, in order to avoid misinformation. You can ask your healthcare professional for more information or contact your local health department.
Online, you can find resources from groups like the American Liver Foundation and the Hepatitis C Association.
Share the information you learn with people around you. Let them know they can’t catch the virus from casual contact like a handshake or a hug.
You may also feel relief knowing that hepatitis C is highly treatable. Direct-acting antiviral drugs cure the virus in 8 to 12 weeks in most people who take them. However, keep in mind that a cure may not ease the emotional reaction to your diagnosis.
It helps to find a doctor who specializes in the treatment of hepatitis C. You should feel comfortable discussing your condition with your doctor, without being judged. And you can seek therapy to help manage the emotions and feelings that a hepatitis C diagnosis and treatment can bring.
It’s natural to feel anxious or scared when you’re diagnosed with a disease like hepatitis C. And because of the stigma surrounding this disease, you might not get enough support from those closest to you. you.
Know that you have places to turn for help. Organizations like the American Liver Foundation offer Hep C support groups. These groups provide a safe space to meet other people with Hep C, learn how to manage your condition, and be around people who know exactly what you are going through.
If a support group isn’t enough, you may want to talk with someone one-on-one. Some therapists, counselors and other mental health professionals specialize in dealing with stigma and other chronic disease issues.
Hepatitis C is a stigmatized disease. Stigma can have a direct effect on the delivery of care and quality of life for people with this condition.
Knowledge and support are key to breaking the stigma and ensuring that anyone diagnosed with hepatitis C has access to the care they need.