The multilevel relationships of HIV-related stigma to child and caregiver mental health among HIV-affected households in South Africa
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HIV/AIDS-related (HAR) stigma is still a prevalent problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has been found to be related to mental health of HIV-positive individuals. However, no studies in the Sub-Saharan African context have yet examined the relationship between HAR stigma and mental health among HIV negative, HIV-affected adults and families; nor have any studies in this context yet examined stigma as an ecological construct predicting mental health outcomes through supra-individual (setting level) and individual levels of influence. Multilevel modeling was used to examine multilevel, ecological relationships between HAR stigma and mental health among child and caregiver pairs from a systematic, community-representative sample of 508 HIV-affected households nested within 24 communities in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Two distinct dimensions of HAR stigma were measured: individual stigmatizing attitudes, and perceptions of community normative stigma. Findings suggest that individual-level HAR stigma significantly predicts individual mental health (depression and anxiety) among HIV-affected adults; and that community-level HAR stigma significantly predicts both individual-level mental health outcomes (anxiety) among HIV-affected adults, and mental health outcomes (PTSD and externalizing behavior scores) among HIV-affected children. Differentiated patterns of relationships were found using the two different stigma measures. These findings of unique relationships identified when utilizing two conceptually distinct stigma measures, at two levels of analysis (individual and community) suggest that HAR stigma in this context should be conceptualized as a multilevel, multidimensional construct. These findings have important implications both for mental health interventions and for interventions to reduce HAR stigma in this context.