One of most damaging parts of an HIV diagnosis is something that isn’t talked about much. The stigma around HIV means that many people become socially isolated. Some feel like once they have been diagnosed, they aren’t allowed to have personal or intimate relationships and find themselves with crippling loneliness which can lead to depression and other mental health problems.
In Northern Ireland, sexual health is still very much a taboo topic and HIV especially so. Those living here with HIV can feel pushed away and detached from society. We have heard far too many stories about people who are faced with a diagnosis and are forced to handle it completely alone.
When a person receives a diagnosis, they do not lose their need for friends, comfort, fun and a social life. But some retreat into themselves after diagnosis and this is only made worse because of the pervasive myths surrounding HIV. The truth is that HIV is now a manageable condition and those affected can live normal lives from a physical perspective. Often though, the stigma that surrounds their condition makes them unable to talk about it to their family and friends.
Positive Life is striving to combat the loneliness and isolation affecting those living with HIV. One of the most important things we do here is provide people with that all-important human connection.
We provide a lot of services, but I think one of the most important is probably our regular informal activities. Whether just a cuppa and a chat or an information event, these allow our service users to relax and to have a bit of craic in a safe space. People come to us sometimes looking for someone who understands the complexities of living with a HIV, to have a laugh with or just someone to chat to about last night’s Love Island! This is serious stuff, and our organisation being able to provide that for people is incredibly important.