HIV diagnosis and the 5 stages of grief

HIV diagnosis and the 5 stages of grief

When we hear about mourning, we usually associate it with death. The loss of a relative, a friend, or a pet is an intense and painful moment that we must go through. But how much do we know about duels of other types? For example, the loss of health can have the same impact as other losses, although this often does not seem so clear.

The Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is the creator of the currently most accepted mourning model, which consists of five stages that occur, to a greater or lesser extent, when someone suffers a loss. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Do you identify with any of them?


For some people it can appear as clearly as repeating “no” over and over again when receiving bad news, but in the case of an HIV diagnosis, denial can take the form of disbelief.

“It can’t be”, “there must be an error”, “this test doesn’t work”, “it will be someone else’s result”, “I’ll go somewhere else to take a test”. All these ideas may have crossed your mind, or perhaps you even said to yourself “I must be dreaming and tomorrow when I wake up, everything will be as before”.


When we realize that the loss, or in this case, the HIV diagnosis, is real, comes the stage of anger. This can be directed against the person you believe gave you HIV, blaming him or her for not telling you, for not having prevented it, or for having betrayed your trust; Or, you can be angry with yourself for not protecting yourself, for trusting someone you “shouldn’t have” or for making mistakes that led you to this point.

Anger could also cause you to be defensive, to receive in a bad way the solidarity or help that your loved ones give you, or to receive worse the mistreatment or possible discriminatory acts that you face from now on.


Later the negotiation phase occurs, where the person revives the hope that things will be resolved if they do something specific. It is at this point that some people pick up a religious faith they had left, or embrace it for the first time, hoping that if they offer something “worthy” enough, their pleas will be heard and nothing will change.

But negotiation can also occur with oneself. For Juan Michaell, a New York artist who shared his testimony on TheBody website, one form of negotiation was thinking that his partner, who seemed to be the only one who could have transmitted the virus to him, had not been diagnosed with HIV, so if a test was taken and it came back negative, neither of them could have the virus. His hope was dashed when his partner took the test and the result was positive.


In addition to the familiar symptoms of depression, such as deep, unrelenting sadness, concentration problems, or a lack of meaning in life, this stage of grief can present itself in other ways. It could happen (and it happens) that you don’t feel like taking care of your health now that you know you have HIV. Or even more so, you could try to run away from the problems that this diagnosis implies, moving away from everything that reminds you of it.

This, unfortunately, includes withdrawing from medical care, antiretroviral treatment or regular check-ups that are necessary to know that the infection is under control. Disregard for self-care (“no matter what happens to me, it couldn’t be worse”) is a clear sign of depression.


In any grief, acceptance is the final step in the process, and the one that indicates that the person has been able to overcome it. It is here where you can see your options more clearly, make decisions and act in a scenario where the cause of the grief is already an undeniable part.

For those living with HIV, acceptance can take weeks, months or years. It depends on many factors, but what the experts do recommend is that you request professional support, specifically, from a therapist who can help you navigate or overcome the entire process.

Remember that living with HIV is possible and everything depends on receiving the right medical care. If you recently received your diagnosis and have not started your treatment, at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we can support you. Come to our offices in your country or write to us by WhatsApp and we will guide you.