Graduate Examines Psychological Impact of an HIV-Positive Diagnosis

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Ms Gellinda Pillay.
Ms Gellinda Pillay.

Growing up in a small KwaZulu-Natal town, which had a shortage of health workers and no mental health professionals, influenced a young woman’s career choice. 

Ms Gellinda Pillay followed her passion to be involved in the mental health sector and graduated with a Masters in Social Sciences (Psychology).

Pillay’s research investigated the psychological effects of an HIV-positive diagnosis and explored challenges and barriers faced by HIV-positive students in the area of disclosing their status.

Pillay focused on what facilitates disclosure, what assists an HIV positive student to continue disclosing their status, the relationship between open HIV disclosure and adherence to treatment, and the ways in which UKZN could better support HIV-positive students.

The study findings, similar to other HIV research, found that stigma, judgement and rejection were barriers to disclosure. Participants found it much easier to disclose if they had a good support system. While participants who found it difficult to disclose also found it difficult to adhere to treatment, Pillay noted that this might have a negative effect in that the viral load of participants would not be controlled.

‘If universities create an environment of support, whereby the campus health clinic and counselling centres work together in preparing the client for the diagnosis, good physical and emotional wellbeing will be enabled. My research could also help universities to understand the burdens faced by HIV-positive students at UKZN,’ said Pillay.

‘It would help with the creation of programmes and platforms for HIV-positive students to discuss their diagnosis. These platforms could be used to educate other students about the psychological processes of HIV, the infection rate and how to be more accepting of those who are HIV-positive.’

Pillay thanked her family, friends and supervisor for their support.

She will write her psychology board exam soon and plans to work as a qualified psychologist. A PhD is also on the cards.

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