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      It’s not “all in your head”: critical knowledge gaps on internalized HIV stigma and a call for integrating social and structural conceptualizations


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          Internalized HIV stigma is a public health concern as it can compromise HIV prevention, care and treatment. This paper has two aims. First, it highlights the urgent need for research evidence on internalized HIV stigma based on critical knowledge gaps. Here, critical knowledge gaps were identified based on most up-to-date systematic review-level evidence on internalized stigma related to HIV and mental health difficulties. Secondly, the paper calls for a shift in focus of internalized HIV stigma research, one that moves beyond psychological frameworks to integrate social, structural and intersectional conceptualizations of stigma. This part of the paper reviews the evolution of stigma theory since Goffman’s 1963 seminal work - which defined stigma - to present.

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          Despite studies consistently suggesting that internalized HIV stigma is more prevalent than enacted stigma, there is little evidence of well-established programs to address it. In addition to this, considerable gaps in basic knowledge about the drivers of internalized HIV stigma hamper the development of an evidence-based response to the problem. The limited intervention and epidemiological research on the topic treats internalized HIV stigma as a purely psychological phenomenon. The second part of the paper provides arguments for studying internalized HIV stigma as a function of social and structural forces: (1) Individual-level interventions for internalized HIV stigma are rooted in out-dated theoretical assumptions; (2) From an ethics point of view, it could be argued that individual-level interventions rely on a victim-centric approach to a public health problem; (3) Social and structural approaches to internalized HIV stigma must be explored due to the high opportunity cost associated with small-scale individual-level interventions.


          Critical gaps in intervention and epidemiological research in internalized HIV stigma remain. There has been an absence of a shared, sound theoretical understanding of internalized HIV stigma as a manifestation of social and structural factors. This commentary sought to stimulate a dialogue to remedy this absence. Future research should take into account ethical considerations, the evolution of stigma theory over the past five decades, intersectionality and opportunity cost when framing hypotheses, developing theories of change and designing interventions.

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          Most cited references48

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          HIV and AIDS-related stigma and discrimination: a conceptual framework and implications for action.

          Internationally, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in HIV and AIDS-related stigma and discrimination, triggered at least in part by growing recognition that negative social responses to the epidemic remain pervasive even in seriously affected communities. Yet, rarely are existing notions of stigma and discrimination interrogated for their conceptual adequacy and their usefulness in leading to the design of effective programmes and interventions. Taking as its starting point, the classic formulation of stigma as a 'significantly discrediting' attribute, but moving beyond this to conceptualize stigma and stigmatization as intimately linked to the reproduction of social difference, this paper offers a new framework by which to understand HIV and AIDS-related stigma and its effects. It so doing, it highlights the manner in which stigma feeds upon, strengthens and reproduces existing inequalities of class, race, gender and sexuality. It highlights the limitations of individualistic modes of stigma alleviation and calls instead for new programmatic approaches in which the resistance of stigmatized individuals and communities is utilized as a resource for social change.
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            A Modified Labeling Theory Approach to Mental Disorders: An Empirical Assessment

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              Sexual abuse and lifetime diagnosis of psychiatric disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis.

              To systematically assess the evidence for an association between sexual abuse and a lifetime diagnosis of psychiatric disorders. We performed a comprehensive search (from January 1980-December 2008, all age groups, any language, any population) of 9 databases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Current Contents, PsycINFO, ACP Journal Club, CCTR, CDSR, and DARE. Controlled vocabulary supplemented with keywords was used to define the concept areas of sexual abuse and psychiatric disorders and was limited to epidemiological studies. Six independent reviewers extracted descriptive, quality, and outcome data from eligible longitudinal studies. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were pooled across studies by using the random-effects model. The I(2) statistic was used to assess heterogeneity. The search yielded 37 eligible studies, 17 case-control and 20 cohort, with 3,162,318 participants. There was a statistically significant association between sexual abuse and a lifetime diagnosis of anxiety disorder (OR, 3.09; 95% CI, 2.43-3.94), depression (OR, 2.66; 95% CI, 2.14-3.30), eating disorders (OR, 2.72; 95% CI, 2.04-3.63), posttraumatic stress disorder (OR, 2.34; 95% CI, 1.59-3.43), sleep disorders (OR, 16.17; 95% CI, 2.06-126.76), and suicide attempts (OR, 4.14; 95% CI, 2.98-5.76). Associations persisted regardless of the victim's sex or the age at which abuse occurred. There was no statistically significant association between sexual abuse and a diagnosis of schizophrenia or somatoform disorders. No longitudinal studies that assessed bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder were found. Associations between sexual abuse and depression, eating disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder were strengthened by a history of rape. A history of sexual abuse is associated with an increased risk of a lifetime diagnosis of multiple psychiatric disorders.

                Author and article information

                BMC Infect Dis
                BMC Infect. Dis
                BMC Infectious Diseases
                BioMed Central (London )
                5 March 2019
                5 March 2019
                : 19
                [1 ]Frontline AIDS, Secretariat, Preece House, 91-101 Davigdor Rd, Brighton, Hove, BN3 1RE UK
                [2 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1936 8948, GRID grid.4991.5, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, , University of Oxford, ; Barnett House, 32 -37 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2ER UK
                [3 ]Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), Eerste Helmersstraat 17 B3 I, 1054 CX Amsterdam, The Netherlands
                [4 ]ISNI 0000 0004 0508 0388, GRID grid.419324.9, Department of Global Health, Youth and Development, , The International Center for Research on Women, ; 1120 20th St. NW Suite 500N, Washington, DC 20036 USA
                © The Author(s). 2019

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                Custom metadata
                © The Author(s) 2019

                Infectious disease & Microbiology
                hiv,aids,stigma,internalized stigma,theory,ethics,post-individualistic
                Infectious disease & Microbiology
                hiv, aids, stigma, internalized stigma, theory, ethics, post-individualistic


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