First Advisor

Sandra Anderson

Term of Graduation

Spring 2006

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research




HIV-positive persons, HIV (Viruses), Resilience (Personality trait), Stigma (Social psychology)



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, 232 pages)


HIV carries a significant social stigma in the United States based on the virus being contagious, incurable, visually apparent, and still somewhat mysterious to the public. People who are HIV positive, people who love them and people who work with them may all experience HIV-related stigma. The effects of HIV-related stigma vary from individual to individual; from community to community. The magnitude of feeling stigmatized and experiencing stigmatizing behaviors such as discrimination and exclusion also vary among individuals. Individuals experience stigma differently and respond to the experience in diverse ways.

The objective of this study was to explore felt HIV-related stigma among adults who are HIV positive to inform potential future research, policy and social work practice with adults with HIV. In this study, qualitative data describing the individual experiences of adults who have HIV with feeling stigmatized provided insight into both emotions and coping skills in the face of stigma, and illustrated a concept of resilience applied to the management of stigma. The definition of stigma was reviewed and data collected from this study provided support to the accuracy of the definition in the literature as reflective of the experiences of individuals.

In exploring the experiences of adults with felt HIV-related stigma, a deeper understanding of stigma was gained in addition to a theoretical conceptualization of stigma viewed through a lens of resilience. Data provided rich insights and definitions of both stigma and the experience of feeling stigmatized. A grounded theory approach led to the development of a theoretical model in this study, which is an iterative conceptualization of felt stigma with a resilience framework. Risk and protective factors, as well as coping skills were identified in the management of felt stigma, which together inform the mechanism of resilience against felt stigma, how stigma is experienced and level of vulnerability towards felt stigma.

Information gleaned from this study is paramount in social work practice, providing invaluable information for service provision to adults with HIV. Future research will focus on instrument development and model testing to further the examination of resilience and quantify both felt stigma and vulnerability to feeling stigmatized.


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