Living with a chronic disease like hepatitis C can be depressing and nerve-wracking. Coping with the side effects of treatment isn’t easy either. But another difficult aspect of having the disease is how it can interfere with your relationships.
“People with hepatitis C experience a lot of stigma,” says Alan Franciscus, executive director of the Hepatitis C Support Project in San Francisco. “It can be really hard.”
You may avoid talking to friends or family about the disease because you’re worried about how they’ll react. You may feel a temptation to pull away from people you care about rather than risk them knowing.
But you can’t. The fact is that now, more than ever, you could use people to rely on. Keeping open and honest relationships with your family and close friends is key to your own well-being.
Coping With the Stigma of Hepatitis C
People with hepatitis C are often anxious about how other people view them. In reality, hepatitis C is a disease that infects all sorts of people from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds. And public perceptions of people with hepatitis C may be more sympathetic than you think.
The American Gastrointestinal Association conducted a survey of public understanding of hepatitis C, questioning about 500 people with the disease and about 1,230 people without it.
The survey found that about 74% of the people infected with hepatitis C believe that others think the disease only infects unhealthy people or drug addicts. However, when uninfected people were asked, it turned out that only 30% had this impression. Only 12% said that “people like themselves” didn’t get hepatitis C.
Obviously, plenty of people with hepatitis C do experience stigma, and plenty of uninfected people have wrong ideas about the disease. But take comfort from the fact that people may not be as hostile as you expect.
Talking to Your Family and Friends About Hepatitis C
Of course, whom you tell about your hepatitis C is up to you, but there are some people who really should know. You need to tell your family, your spouse, your sexual partners, and anyone else who might have caught the disease from you. The chances are small that any of these people have hepatitis C, but it’s important that they know so that they can be tested and treated if necessary.