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Isolation and loneliness are hazardous to your health. Studies show that depression caused by feelings of alienation and isolation can be as harmful to your health as obesity, or chugging half a pack of cigarettes a day!

Health4Men is currently running a campaign encouraging men who have sex with men to go and get tested for HIV with a close friend, for support. It’s based on the premise that we are braver when we do things together. But this is not just a great strategy for how to deal with the anxiety you may have about your HIV status; it’s also a good strategy when it comes to your mental health too. Here are a few points to ponder that will help you to reach out and connect with someone if you need to, for your good mental health:NoBullies

• Everybody hurts some times. Feeling lonely is very common, and almost everyone will experience it from time to time. Things happen in our childhood that makes us feel abandoned for some or other reason, and then, when we get older, something random can trigger a memory of this feeling of abandonment, and so we become overwhelmed with a feeling of isolation or aloneness. It’s important to remember at these times that loneliness is often just a feeling and not a fact. You may feel lonely, but in truth, there are probably many people who would love the opportunity to connect with you, given the opportunity.

• Connecting with other people is the best way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. The reason that group therapy has such a great success rate is that we all respond much better to treatment or challenges when we feel that we are “all in this together”. Being part of a collective reminds us that we are in fact not alone, which is something that depression and reclusive behaviour can allow us to start to believe is true. Joining a yoga group or a hiking society can make a world of difference to your outlook on life.

• Get over yourself. Obsessing over your life and how you feel about it can actually aggravate feelings of alienation and despair. Try to focus on others for a while and see things from their perspective. You may become inspired by how bravely other people are battling their fears and personal demons. Compassion is a strange thing, when we have compassion for others, it causes others to start treating us in a similar way, and nothing can connect two souls better than cars of compassion running on a two-way street. Kindness is the same. Relationships and marriages that work for many years have been founded on good habits of treating one another with kindness.

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Poems, plays, songs, movies and series explore a subject that never seems to go out of fashion because it’s been a sticky topic throughout history: Infidelity. Maybe you’ve been cheated on, or maybe you’ve been the cheater.h4mlogo Perhaps you just don’t know. Then again, you and your partner may have an open relationship that doesn’t require being sexually exclusive with one another. Whatever the case, HIV need not be on the menu, even if having a side-dish is.

 

Condoms

If you are in an exclusive monogamous relationship, using condoms is still an effective way to practice safer sex. Condoms are your first line of defence against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections when you’re having sex with another person. If you are likely to have sex with someone other than your partner, make sure that you use a condom. It’s one thing to cheat on someone, but something else altogether to give them an unwanted infection or disease. If you suspect that your partner may be cheating on you, using condoms can at least provide some peace of mind. Make sure you use condoms and water-based lubricant.

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By Bruce J. Little

We sat around the pool chatting and laughing about stuff we’d gotten up to over the weekend.  We loved to do this; get together and compare dating war stories, and this always left us both wheezing from too much cackling and not enough breathing.  I was still mid the descending voiced sigh that usually ends a long spell of laughter when he said:  "I need to tell you something."h4mlogo

The news left me completely stunned with absolutely no idea what to say.  This is a guy that I could usually tell anything to, a person that shared my un-PC sense of humour and also loved to play in the realms of the inappropriate.  He and I sang Gaga together and flirted outrageously with petrol attendants. But I knew that what he had said was not meant to be funny. 

He wasn’t the first person I knew that was HIV-positive, but he was the first person that I knew well, and the last person I thought would ever acquire it. My first lesson, HIV is indiscriminate.

I said so many tactless things, and looking back I admire how well he coped with some of the stupid things I said and asked.  Knowing that I can't go back and change how I reacted then, at least, I can now help people to know what they should say if they ever find themselves in the same situation.

My first big mistake:  I got all formal and not like myself.  Because I felt unsure of what to say, I suddenly started to edit myself and to speak in a way that wasn't authentic. I must’ve sounded like a call centre agent from a complaints hotline. He picked it up immediately. Authenticity is the best first response.  "I'm sorry to hear that", wasn't the wrong thing to say so much as it wasn't the kind of thing I would usually say to him.  It was the kind of stuff you say to an acquaintance or disgruntled customer. I should have sworn out loud and grabbed and hugged him; that would've been more me.   What you say is not as important as the way that you say it.     

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By Bruce J. Little

 

I would do anything that I can to avoid shame and embarrassment, and I will gladly duck and dive a situation in which I suspect that I may be judged by someone else and put into the “not good enough” box because being looked down on is painful. It’s as if someone is taking a bunch of negative labels and insults and spearing them onto a dart before throwing them at me and repeatedly puncturing and pinning me down me with their harsh opinions.

That is stigma. Assumptions made about someone based on limited knowledge about a characteristic that they may have.

See Mike? Mike is HIV-positive. Mike must have been promiscuous and irresponsible, right? See Jerome? He has bipolar disorder, so he must be a nightmare to be in a relationship with because he must be crazy. See Steve? He’s obese, so he must be lazy, whereas Terrence is a ginger so he must be temperamental and Dumi is Xhosa so he must also be quick to anger. The list is endless. But just how true are these assumptions and beliefs? Mostly, they are not true at all.h4mlogo

Stigma is when you jump to conclusions about somebody based on only one thing that you know about them, and it’s very dangerous because most people are like me, most people will do whatever they can to avoid this kind of judgment and discrimination.

Mike may not even know that he is HIV-positive because he is afraid to find out in case you also find out and judge him. Mike may even know that he is HIV-positive but does not take his ARVs regularly because he is scared that you might see him collecting them at the clinic. Mike doesn’t want you to think less of him. Mike could unwittingly infect someone else because he’s afraid of getting tested and he may also get sick and eventually die because he is that scared of your judgment. He wouldn’t be the first.

Like Mike, Jerome could also benefit from taking medication. With bipolar disorder taking mood stabilisers and an anti-depressant would subject him to far fewer suicidal thoughts and debilitating bouts of depression, but Jerome also doesn’t want you to put him in a box and judge him. Jerome is scared that if word gets out about his illness, nobody will want to work with him, love him or spend time with him, so Jerome stays at home and hopes that he’s not sick. His suicide months later will come as a shock to us all.

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The Anova Health Institute welcomes the move by the Medicines Control Council (MCC) after they officially registered the use of a combination of two antiretroviral drugs as a form of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication. This pill, taken daily by the HIV negative individuals, can drastically reduce HIV infection.

Prof James McIntyre, CEO of Anova, says: “This is a major advance in HIV prevention in South Africa, with the potential to save many lives. The evidence is clear, PrEP works if you take it. Not everyone will need or want PrEP, or require it forever, but it can provide almost complete protection against infection if taken consistently. Our challenge is to educate users and move rapidly to ensure access for those who need it.”h4mlogo

Dr Kevin Rebe, Specialist Medical Consultant at Anova’s Health4Men Initiative, says: “The approval of PrEP is a major step forward in the fight against HIV. It is extremely effective and safe to use. It can reduce the risk of HIV by more than 90% in HIV negative people who use it correctly. This announcement will greatly facilitate the work that Anova conducts in HIV prevention. Our challenge now is to create demand for PrEP and to work towards removing barriers to access.”

Anova, in collaboration with the Desmond Tutu HIV Research Unit, already has a PrEP demonstration project underway within state sector clinics. Anova is working to develop tools that will allow PrEP to be nurse-driven and scaled up by the Department of Health.

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