Telling a family member about your HIV status can seem scary and daunting. It’s understandable that you never want your family to worry about your health, and it can be difficult discussing something so intimate with your mum, dad or a sibling. However, having your family as a support network can be invaluable when coming to terms with your diagnosis.

Who should you tell?

When I told my mum, I told a friend of hers beforehand, so she could be there for support.” Dan, 44.

It’s up to you which of your family members you tell. There’s no obligation to tell anyone within your family that you don’t want to. This is about you and who you think can provide the support you want or need. It’s under your control who knows your status e.g. if you want to tell your mum and dad, it’s OK for you to ask them not to tell your aunt or uncle. This is your life and your health and you get to choose who to share that information with, even in your own family.

What should you tell your family?

If they love you then they will love you still! they might be scared because they don't understand it, but in time you can show them it’s now something that you can live with.” Stephen, 45.

Tell your family that you have something important to tell them. Make sure what you tell them is as straightforward and direct as possible. Perhaps you are HIV-Undetectable: make sure you explain what that means in the simplest way possible e.g. “I’m living with HIV and HIV-undetectable. That means the amount of HIV in my body is so low that I can’t pass on HIV to anyone else.” Let them know that they don’t need to worry about you and that on effective treatment you’ll live a long and healthy life. Tell your family why you want them to know – if you need their support, tell them. Make sure you offer to answer any questions that might have about your status and tell them how much their support means to you.  

When should you tell your family?

I think it depends on the family to be honest, but mine were amazingly supportive, Denis, 48.

You have no obligation to tell anyone, so only tell your family when it feels natural for you – this could be straight away or maybe you need time to adjust. Remember, this is about your needs, not those of your family. You are telling them so that they can provide you support. Don’t feel guilty or let a family member make you feel guilty if you didn’t tell them about your diagnosis straight away: you’re not ‘hiding something’ by taking the time that you need. How your family reacts at first may be very different from the way they behave after they have had time to better understand what living with HIV means. An emotional response could be followed by help and support, or vice versa.

Where should you tell your family?

Disclose to the people you trust and love first, it's hard, but these are usually the people who'll support you through the most difficult parts,” Steve, 31.

Choose a setting that is comfortable for you, whether that is your home, your family home, or somewhere familiar or that evokes good memories. You may even prefer a public setting – just make sure you are comfortable and it’s in a place where you and your family or family member can have an easy and honest discussion and listen to each other.

Why are you telling your family?

Particularly if the family is a close one, consider how you would feel if someone in your family was in your situation or a similar one and chose not to tell you about it,” Marc, 48.

There are lots of potential reasons why you may want to disclose your status to your family: family members can offer you support, it can be a stepping stone to tell others (such as friends or partners), you want advice or maybe you just want to be open about your status. Whatever your reason, don’t feel pressured. This is your news, your life and you can tell people in your own time. Tell them why you want them to know. Just don't be afraid to be open about your feelings and don’t underestimate the value of the support your family can provide.

What if you feel like you can’t confide in your family?

If you feel like you can’t talk to your friends, family or a partner, there are support services available to provide help, advice or even if you just need someone to talk to:

  • Contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221.
  • Contact Positively UK on 020 7713 0444.