Who is better at coping with stress – women or men with HIV?
Gender differences concerning psychosocial functioning of persons with HIV constitute a major research theme. For example, a lower level of well-being is recorded among women with HIV than among men with HIV. This can be explained, among others, by stronger stigmatisation of women than of men with HIV. On the other hand, better medical indicators are usually observed in women and it is women who follow medical recommendations more rigorously.
Therefore, the nature of gender differences in health-related quality of life (HRQoL) is particularly complex in this group of patients, and the differences have psychosocial underpinnings more often than medical ones.
The purpose of our study was to examine differences between men and women in terms of well-being and strategies used to cope with stress in the group of 530 people with HIV. We expected that in the studied group women would declare lower levels of well-being than men. Thus, we expected that:
- either men and women would use different strategies of coping with stress;
- or the same strategies would be related to varying degrees with their well-being.
In accordance with the hypothesis, in the studied group of persons with HIV women declared a much lower level of well-being than men. A detailed statistical analysis showed that a worse professional situation and lower level of education might lie at the root of these differences.
Gender differences were also observed among HIV-infected individuals with regard to the strategies used in order to cope with stress.
- Men more frequently used avoidance strategies of coping with stress, that is e.g. psychoactive substance abuse in the face of difficult and stressful life events;
- Women more frequently used positive re-evaluation, that is seeking and emphasising good sides of a stressful situation, which implies making the situation meaningful and noticing its potential for personal development;
- Importantly, it was only in the group of women that the use of strategies of coping with stress was significantly linked to the level of well-being.
The above conclusions may indicate a further direction of research into gender differences with regard to the well-being of people with HIV. Above all, it is necessary to identify the specific nature of the functioning of women with HIV, since due to continued stronger discrimination women are more exposed to negative psychosocial effects linked to the status of a person with HIV.
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