Psychosocial challenges and protective influences for socio-emotional coping of HIV+ adolescents in South Africa: a qualitative investigation

OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
TITLE AUTHOR(S): I.Petersen, A.Bhana, N.Myeza, S.Alicea, S.John, H.Holst, M.McKay, C.Mellins
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 6536
HANDLE: 20.500.11910/4079

If you would like to obtain a copy of this Research Output, please contact Hanlie Baudin at


Introduction. While the roll-out of antiretroviral therapy in South Africa should lead to a reduction in mother to child transmission, mortality and orphaning, it will also be accompanied by a large number of children entering adolescence and adulthood with a chronic infectious disease. Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable period for HIV-infected people in relation to mental health problems and engagement in high-risk behaviours, including non-compliance with medical treatment. The goal of this qualitative study was to develop an understanding of the psychosocial challenges as well as protective influences promoting socio-emotional coping in HIV+ adolescents in order to inform mental health promotion and HIV prevention programming for this population in South Africa. Method. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with HIV+ adolescents (25) and caregivers of HIV+ children (15) at a large HIV/AIDS Clinic in South Africa. Data were analysed thematically using NVivo8 software. Results. Psycho-social challenges for adolescents included dealing with loss of biological parents in the case of orphans; coming to terms with their HIV+ status including identity difficulties; external stigma and discrimination; and disclosure difficulties. For caregivers, disclosure and lack of financial, family and social support emerged as key challenges. Medication, HIV information, a future orientation and social support was identified as important for coping and general well-being of adolescents, with financial and social support emerging as key for promoting supportive caregiving contexts. Conclusion. While HIV+ adolescents in South Africa experience similar concerns to those in high-income countries, socio-emotional coping may be compromised by increased levels of loss due to the late roll-out of ARVS and challenges to caregiving contexts including poverty, stigma and minimally supported foster care arrangements. There is a need for mental health promotion programmes for adolescents to adopt an ecological approach, strengthening protective influences at the individual, interpersonal, community and policy levels.