HIV/AIDS Awareness Week
Artwork by Dani Delaide
Dec 7, 2021
‘Stigma’ is a word we often use in the mental health world. Conversations surrounding mental illness have historically been avoided because the stigma surrounding it promoted shame in those who experienced it. As a mental health practitioner, it is not often that I hear ‘stigma’ and think past the mental health space. However, as it is HIV/AIDS Awareness Week, I think it is important to acknowledge the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS and the way that stigma has changed over since the 1980s.
In the 1980s, the HIV/AIDS epidemic entered the social and political conversation in the United States. Misinformation ran rampant throughout the media, which caused panic throughout the country. The queer community was targeted as the ‘source’ of the epidemic. People with HIV/AIDS were outcast. The disease was thought to be a death sentence, and those with it were marginalized. While the queer community was scapegoated for the ‘physical’ illness of the epidemic, and they were also technically considered mentally ill. Homosexuality was listed as a diagnosible illness in the DSM until 1974. It was then renamed as ‘Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality’, which began to include issues of gender identity. It was not until 1987 that homosexuality was no longer diagnosible.
Physical illness and mental illness have a symbiotic relationship. Our minds and bodies are one, so if one struggles, so does the other. HIV/AIDS is often thought of as a strictly physical illness. To exclude mental health from the HIV/AIDS narrative is to ignore part of the experience. People who are HIV/AIDS positive are at a higher risk of developing depression, suicidal thoughts, and isolation. This is the result of a lack of control over function of one’s body, as well as the social ostracization that comes with the diagnosis. Talk therapy can combat these mental health symptoms. In certain cases, psychiatric medication can also be helpful. Please see the list of resources below if you are interested in mental health resources for those with HIV/AIDS.
The number of resources available to the HIV/AIDS positive community, as well as their families, has grown exponentially since the 1980s. This is partly because the disease was new and there was not much information about it, and partly because HIV/AIDS is no longer experienced in the shadows. Today, HIV/AIDS awareness is visible in media and literature.
Here is a list of media and literature that focuses on HIV/AIDS:
“The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makai
The Inheritance play written by Matthew Lopez
Angels in America by written by Tony Kusher
The Normal Heart directed by Ryan Murphy (stream on HBO)
Rent play by Johnathan Larson, film directed by Chris Columbus
Here are some mental health resources for those impacted by HIV/AIDS in New York City:
The Lesbian, Gay, Transgender Community Center (208 w 13th): https://gaycenter.org/recovery-health/health/hiv-aids/
NYC Health+Hospitals Bellevue (462 First Ave): https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/bellevue/hiv-services/
The Alliance (multiple locations in NYC): https://alliance.nyc/get-care-overview
New York Department of Health Resource List: https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/general/resources/