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AIDS Support Webs Catch Fewer Women

Survey finds them much likelier to feel isolated, depressed

TUESDAY, Jan. 29, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- The AIDS epidemic has added a new dimension to one of the oldest sayings, a sociologist reports: It's always the woman who pays.

A new study shows that women with AIDS generally feel more isolated and shunned than men with the disease, according to Bronwen Lichtenstein, a research assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, whose report appears in the February issue of the journal AIDS Patient Care and STDs.

But the study addresses a broader issue, Lichtenstein says: The support system set up to help patients when AIDS was almost entirely a disease of gay men is not working as the disease spreads to the general community.

Eighteen percent of the men with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, who were interviewed for the study said they felt stigmatized because of the disease, compared to 78 percent of the women. Fewer than half the men said they were depressed, while three-quarters of the women reported depression.

That was because the men, almost all of them homosexual, were getting support from the gay community, Lichtenstein says. Most were in a support group run by an avowedly gay church, "and in general they were happy with the services of that church," she says.

The women, by contrast, were getting support from "other church organizations that tend to have their own agenda," Lichtenstein says. "There was a limit to what those churches were prepared to provide." The church volunteers who were thrust into the position of working with AIDS patients offered help "that wasn't what people needed," she says. "They felt as though they were not welcome."

That lack of understanding was even broader for the women, Lichtenstein says.

"They were much more stigmatized than the men," she says. "The women were shunned by everybody, including their own children."

The lesson of the study, she says, is that "there is the broader question of support for people with AIDS. The idea that one size fits all, which may be good for gay men, does not apply to women, certainly women with children. The services you provide need to be tailored to the person."

Racial differences must also be taken into account as well, Lichtenstein says. Statistics show that a majority of new cases of AIDS in the United States are occurring among blacks, she says, and at least in Alabama, a third of all patients are women.

What To Do

"More needs to be done to make social services and volunteers who make home visits to AIDS patients more aware of the high rate of depression in HIV-positive persons," Lichtenstein writes. "Particular attention should be paid to such stresses as motherhood, poverty, lack of social support, especially for HIV-positive women."

Information about living with AIDS is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

SOURCES: Interview with Bronwen Lichtenstein, Ph.D, research assistant professor of sociology, University of Alabama, Birmingham; February 2002 AIDS Patient Care and STDs
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