Depression can be a major player in any HIVer’s life, whether s/he is newly diagnosed or a long-term survivor. It’s a daunting task to manage one’s life after receiving an HIV diagnosis. There are regular blood draws, all the pills to take, not to mention possible side effects from the pills as well as dealing with the fact that one will never ever be over this. It’s for the rest of one’s life.This in no way implies that other diagnosed illnesses aren’t equally as devastating and lifechanging, because they are. At least in most cases though, the patient isn’t “branded” for acquiring his/her disease in quite the same way that HIVers are. One of the first things that many people want to know when learning of someone else’s status is, “Do you know how you got it?” It’s hard to imagine someone asking an acquaintance with breast or colon cancer the same question.
HIV is not a gay disease, but it is an acquired disease, meaning it’s infectious. Since the largest proportion of the infected population catch it through sexual contact, it has the stigma of people “deserving” to get it. Getting counseling, or at least talking to someone else about the diagnosis may be a most-needed first step to take in the decision-making process. For people dealing with other life issues including substance abuse, domestic violence, or sexual identity issues, contacting someone may be even more urgent for providing the sense of stability necessary to begin taking care of oneself. The county mental health unit can help, but when talking to a stranger face-to-face seems too formidable, crisis hotlines may be the better answer. These are usually 24/7 services. 2-1-1 services will also lend an ear and point people in the right direction. The most important idea to remember is that you aren’t alone. Fighting HIV stigma begins inside each person who lives with or is affected by HIV/AIDS. Reaching out is the first, most important step that each person takes.
Getting into treatment is the next step. The AIDS Service Organization or county health department is the best place to start. Orlando has the HUG-ME program, which can be reached at (407) 888-1330. Brevard County has Project Response at (321) 724-1177 and Comprehensive Health Clinic at (321)235-0120. Each of these organizations provides case management services that can create the connections the newly-diagnosed patient needs for accessing the care they need in the fight to regaining his/her health. The phone book has information listings for local public health departments.
One of the best ways to fight depression is by learning more about HIV. The Florida HIV/AIDS Hotline is a cornucopia of Florida-specific HIV/AIDS resources. It’s funded by the Bureau of HIV/AIDS, which is a division of the state’s Department of Health. It can be reached via Inter net or telephone (1-800-FLA-AIDS). There are also numbers for Spanish- and Creole-speakers as well as a TTY number for the hard-of-hearing and deaf. The Hotline website gives essential basic information about symptoms, the difference between HIV and AIDS, testing, counseling services, other sexually-transmitted diseases and financial assistance in an easy-to-read format.
For those who desire a more activist approach, the We Make The Change web site is chock full of contacts and information about events already planned or ways to plan an event.
For inspiration in taking control of one’s life, one has only to look to other PLWAs. Chances are none of them are doing it perfectly, but the major factor in each of their lives is that they have decided to not let HIV/AIDS keep them down. Some have played Santa; some do regular testing at soup kitchens, in the jails, or at women’s shelters; others have day-to-day jobs in retail; or have started their own non-profits. The recurring theme is that “It’s not the number of time you fall that determines your character, but the number of times you get back up again.”
There aren’t any “one-size-fits-all” answers, but turning the anger and frustration into positive energy used to rebuild one’s life and help others seems to work as well any other.