Southern states account for a large percentage of individuals that live with HIV–44% in the country and 37% in the U.S., to be exact. Surprisingly, southern states tend to have lower HIV survival rates, but Texas has a higher survival rate for HIV and AIDS. With these higher survival rates come stressors and coping strategies. Texas State University Alum, Stephen Ramos, and faculty members found that stressors make living with HIV and AIDS in Texas challenging, but and ways of coping help survivors endure.
The study, A Qualitative Approach to Understanding HIV-Related Stress in Texas published in The Journal of Texas Medicine, was part of the thesis completed by Stephen Ramos, who graduated with a master’s degree in psychology from Texas State in 2016. His co-authors and thesis committee included Dr. Aimee Roundtree in the Department of English, along with Dr. Kelly Haskward-Zolnierek and Dr. Ty Schepis in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Schepis was his thesis chair. The purpose of the study was to explore the experiences that HIV survivors encountered and how they managed stress while living with HIV in Texas.
The study reveals that unfavorable housing situations stress survivors, who face government-subsidized housing and poor housing quality and other limitations. Finances largely contribute to stress from tensions of getting to work, maintaining work, and everyday necessities like medical expenses. Relationship dynamics were an additional stress factor, including interpersonal pressures and handling the stigma surrounding the disease. Some findings about how survivors cope were complicated. For example, HIV survivors reported that both being resilient and using substances lowered stress. On one hand, resilience grew as survivors learned to accept their disease. On the other, while substance use has drawbacks, survivors reported that it helped them calm down and relax.
The study suggested that Texas might have higher survival rates because it has different attitudes about substance use and spirituality than other states in the South. The study also suggested that future research should investigate stress and coping in other regions compared to Texas. In addition, future studies should include more diverse populations that represent the U.S general population.
Stephen Ramos continues to develop his expertise in survivorship and mental health. His research interests include chronic illness, substance and alcohol use/abuse, stress, and mental/physical health disparities in minority communities. He has published research with other teams of researchers on marital satisfaction and health in long-distance relationships and pain disability. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology. His ultimate goal is being a professor at the university level, as well as teaching and conducting research on alcohol and drug use in chronically ill populations.