PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME (AIDS) (HOMOSEXUALITY, GAY MEN, COPING)
HIRSCH, DAN ALAN
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The diagnosis of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) imposes a profound psychological burden on its patients--due to the extreme physiological, emotional, social, and practical stresses associated with the illness. In order to systematically examine psychological adjustment to AIDS, patterns of psychological symptomatology were assessed in 67 gay men diagnosed with AIDS and 150 asymptomatic gay men. Further, the magnitude and effectiveness of certain coping strategies were investigated in the AIDS patients. Standard self-report scales were used for all variables. Psychological symptoms were measured on the Symptom Check List-90R, while coping strategies were measured on the Coping Strategies Inventory. Two-tailed t-tests were used to assess the differences between groups. Significantly greater psychological distress was observed in the AIDS patients, with respect to the asymptomatic comparison group (p < .01) on the following variables: somatization, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, phobic anxiety, psychoticism, and global distress. For the AIDS patient sample only, a hierarchical multiple regression analysis was performed to determine the relationships between coping strategies and three indices of psychological distress (depression, anxiety, and global distress). Two coping strategies, active relaxation (AR) and positive comparison (PC) were found to be significantly negatively associated with the level of anxiety (for AR, R('2) = .46, p < .0002; PC, R('2) = .28, p < .0078) and level of global distress (for AR, R('2) = .43, p < .0005; PC, R('2) = .21, p < .0445). No significant associations were obtained between any coping strategy and depression. The results of this study highlight the acute psychological distress of the AIDS patient. This distress may be amenable to control through active relaxation and positive comparison. These findings suggest that psychotherapeutic intervention, specifically anchored in these strategies, may be effective in easing the significant psychological distress associated with AIDS.