Comment: As someone who is HIV positive, here’s what Mental Health Awareness Day means to me

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Tom Hayes, the editor of beyondpositive, an online magazine for people living with HIV in the UK, writes on why Mental Health Awareness Day is important to him.

Today, Thursday 10th October 2013, is Mental Health Awareness Day around the world, and here in the United Kingdom. I just wanted to share with you what that means to me.

I don’t know how many of you saw the story of Juzar Adamjee’s inquest. He was a bright young and promising doctor at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro who took his own life when he found out that he was HIV positive. Juzar had failed to turn up for the follow-up appointment after his diagnosis and was found a week later at his home in June 2012, surrounded by photos of his family. He’d taken a lethal cocktail of drugs, obtained from work, and written a note to his family – apparently he couldn’t go on with his life knowing that he was HIV positive. Deeply saddening news, and something that could have been avoided with the right support.

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve suffered from bouts of severe depression, not being able to leave my bed for days or even weeks. In 2011, following the breakup of a relationship, I was in one of these pits of depression when I found out that my ex-boyfriend and his friend had taken it upon themselves, in an act of revenge, to post my HIV status all over Facebook and Twitter.

At the time I was only just coming to terms with my HIV status myself, I’d told precious few people and this hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was out for dinner at the time with friends so I put on a brave face. I was staying with my friends Ant and Ben and we went back to their house after the meal, the whole night I was checking my phone to see what people were saying. Half the people were defending me, half the people were saying unconscionable things about me and my HIV status and loads were unfriending/unfollowing me.

When everyone had gone to bed I lay there on the sofa reading through all the messages, taking everything in. I was so upset, scared and angry I was literally shaking. I couldn’t see any way back from this – my life as it stood was over. I got dressed and was heading out. I had my plan, I was going to jump from the bridge onto the Queensway dual-carriage way – its a big drop and the traffic is fast moving. Done.

Then as I was trying – through the tears, to put my shoes on, my friend Ben walks into the living room and asks what’s going on. He sat me down and made me explain everything. I showed him what had happened on Twitter, he got me a glass of water and we talked it all through. Without Ben being there that night I doubt very much I’d be here today – I am forever indebted to him.

One in four people in the United Kingdom are likely to suffer ill mental health at some point in their lifetime – and that ranges from everything from to post-natal depression to OCD to schizophrenia. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual lists over 300 different mental health diagnoses.

Throw HIV into the mix and the rate is even higher. A recent report called “States of Mind” by Positively UK recorded that three out of four people living with HIV have suffered from ill mental health at some point in their lives. That’s a pretty shocking increase. But what the report shows is that there’s also not enough support out there for those people.

Mental health isn’t something you can see, and with one in four people generally and three in four with HIV suffering from ill mental health at some point there’s a high chance that someone you know is trying to cope with what seems an insurmountable challenge right now. So if there’s a friend, family member or co-worker that hasn’t seemed quite themselves lately or maybe you’ve not heard from someone in a while – why not take the time to get in touch and ask how things are? Your contact could be just the thing to help them through the day.

This article was first published by beyondpositive

It’s editor, Tom Hayes, tweets @UKPositiveLad