What determines long-term change in psychological well-being of people with HIV?
To what extent is a person’s well-being constant (e.g. conditioned by innate personality traits), and to what extent does it depend on changing environmental conditions? This may be particularly relevant to individuals living with HIV, who in spite of the huge progress in treatment still experience numerous difficulties determined by the social construction of the disease.
Literature concerning factors related to changes in well-being of people living with HIV is ample but inconsistent. Although the key part played by the course of the infection was identified as the most important factor in this context as recently as a decade ago, research conducted currently foregrounds psychosocial factors.
In our study we wanted to answer two research questions:
- Will psychological well-being of people infected with HIV assessed for a year be constant?
- What will be the relation between the Big Five personality traits (the five-factor model of personality (FFM)) and the stable component of well-being?
To answer these questions we conducted a longitudinal study in a group of 141 persons living with HIV. In other words, we observed patients for a year, administering to them questionnaires every six months, that is obtaining three measurements from each participant (at the beginning, half-way through the study, and at the end of the study).
The results show that the overall psychological well-being of the participants was relatively stable for 12 months, that is it did not change significantly over time. However, its components changed to varying degrees. Interestingly, it was the psychological component of well-being (reported affect)that proved to be most stable, whereas the social component of well-being (relations with others, including sexual relations) proved to be most susceptible to circumstances. This means that affective states may be more linked to the person’s characteristics while relations with others may be more linked to the situational context.
Additionally, what was stable in the well-being of the participants correlated with neuroticism and extraversion. In line with observations from numerous other studies, higher neuroticism and lower extraversion were linked to lower well-being, and clinical variables once again were not significant here.
The results may indicate the direction of actions aimed at helping people living with HIV. Above all, social relations may be relevant here and at the same time social relations are susceptible to change. Therefore, the actions should clearly take into account not only the way people with HIV feel, but also their satisfaction with relations with others, including with regard to sexual functioning.
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