Maternal HIV status disclosure to young uninfected children: psychological variables of the mother

Published in: African Journal of AIDS Research
Volume 19, issue 1, 2020 , pages: 48–56
DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2019.1681481
Author(s): Maretha VisserDepartment of Psychology, South Africa, Amukelani Jennifer HlungwaniDepartment of Psychology, South Africa


Mothers living with HIV are faced with the dilemma of when and how to disclose their HIV-positive status to their young uninfected children. In this study, a South African sample of mothers living with HIV, with young uninfected children (6–10 years) in the city of Tshwane was studied. In the sample of 406 mothers, 11.6% reported that they disclosed their HIV status to their young uninfected children. The research compared 47 mothers who disclosed (29 full disclosure and 18 partial disclosure) and a random sample of 50 mothers who did not disclose to their children, in terms of depression symptoms, parenting stress and coping strategies. The results showed that single and widowed mothers disclosed significantly more to their uninfected young children than mothers who had partners or were married. Mothers in the three disclosure groups did not differ in their experience of depression symptoms, parental distress and coping styles. Mothers who disclosed partially reported less parent–child dysfunctional interaction. Time since disclosure did not influence level of disclosure and was not significantly related to psychological outcome of mothers. Mothers who disclosed reported significantly more emotional and instrumental support as coping strategies than mothers who did not disclose. Mothers thus mostly disclose their status to their children to gain support and family closeness. Mothers who disclosed and had not disclosed did not differ in terms of psychological variables. Some mothers perceived partial disclosure as age-appropriate for young children. It is recommended that HIV-positive mothers receive psychosocial support services to equip them to disclose their health status in an age-appropriate way to their children, as it is documented that maternal disclosure benefits both mother and child.

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