Living with hiv Mental Health and HIV Living with HIV and feeling suicidal If you just read about effective HIV treatment and life expectancy you’d be forgiven for thinking that HIV is no big deal these days. Sure your life might change but once you are diagnosed all you have to do is remind yourself to take your medication once a day, and eventually you will become undetectable and your life will go back to normal. However recent statistics show that gay men living with HIV are twice as likely to die by suicide than HIV-negative men. Gay men in general are more likely to experience mental health issues. If you are living with HIV and feeling suicidal know that you are not the only person feeling like this. Anthony is 26 and from London. He told us that after his diagnosis he couldn’t handle it. He said: “About three months after I was told I was HIV-positive. I didn’t cope at all with being told I had the virus. I thought my life was over and suicide was the best option. Luckily my attempt failed.” Liam is 30 and from Dublin. He said: “Here in Ireland nobody talks about HIV. It’s like it doesn’t exist. I’ve had unprotected sex several times but never really worried about it, as I thought it was only a problem in major cities like London. I went for my check-up and was told my test came back as positive. I didn’t know enough about just how advanced the medication is these days. My first question was “when will I die” and thought it would be better to kill myself rather than die with AIDS. It wasn’t until I was educated about how the medication works and talked to other HIV-positive guys that I became OK with it. I still struggle and haven’t told my family. Some days I think it would be best to end it all but those days don’t last long.” Ravi is 29 and lives in Bradford. He told us that being from a Muslim background being diagnosed with HIV brought ‘great shame’ on him. He said: “When I was told I had HIV I had to deal with what my family would think. I come from a Muslim family and they are just about OK with me being gay. Telling them I have HIV is not possible. It would bring great shame on them. I think about killing myself every day because of this.” How can I tell I’m suicidal? A lot of gay men feel sad when they are told they are HIV-positive. Over time, you might find that the sadness doesn't go away or is getting worse. This can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. Suicidal feelings can be frightening for the person experiencing them as well as their friends and family. You may be finding it difficult to talk about your feelings, and what’s going on for you. You may want people to understand but may not have the words to adequately describe what is going on. Sometimes people can not see the signs before it’s too late. If you or anyone you know starts to experience any of the following you/they might be at risk. A person may also be at risk of attempting suicide if they: complain of feelings of hopelessness have episodes of sudden rage and anger act recklessly and engage in risky activities with an apparent lack of concern about the consequences talk about feeling trapped, such as saying they can't see any way out of their current situation self-harm – including misusing drugs or alcohol, or using more than they usually do noticeably gain or lose weight due to a change in their appetite become increasingly withdrawn from friends, family and society in general appear anxious and agitated are unable to sleep or they sleep all the time have sudden mood swings – a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression could indicate they have made the decision to attempt suicide talk and act in a way that suggests their life has no sense of purpose lose interest in most things, including their appearance put their affairs in order, such as sorting out possessions or making a will If you are experience any of the above and you feel like your life is at risk do the following: 1 - Go to a safe space Try to avoid being alone, and think about where you feel safe. This may mean coming out of your bedroom and joining family or flatmates, asking someone to call over or making a call to someone. 2 - Talk If you are concerned about yourself the first thing you should do is to talk to someone. Choose someone you trust like a family member or friend. You might find it difficult to put words on how you’re feeling but that’s ok. Just even saying to someone that you’re not feeling well and not ok will be enough to let them know you need their support. 3 - Visit your HIV Doctor If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone you know, you should go to your HIV doctor who will be able to refer you onto other services if necessary. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by what you are feeling, as your Doctor will have seen it all before. 5 - Ring emergency services If you are feeling extremely bad and feel that you may be suicidal, you should ring 999 or 112 or go to you local A&E as soon as you can. 6 - Get rid of anything you can use to hurt yourself If you have anything that you could use to hurt yourself, dispose of it or give it to someone you trust. 7 - Do not take any drugs other than your HIV medication Some HIV drugs can push levels of ecstasy (E), ketamine (K), speed, GHB and crystal meth to life-threatening levels. The comedowns after using those stimulants - as well as alcohol use - can increase depression and anxiety. 8 - Call a helpline If you are in crisis and would prefer to talk to someone right now, Samaritans is there for you no matter where you are or what age you are. Samaritans provides confidential, non-judgmental support, 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide. Call: 08457 90 90 90, or email: [email protected] Experiencing suicidal thoughts after a HIV diagnosis can be common but remember that you are not alone. Seek support from friends, family, your GP, your HIV Doctor or call a helpline. You will get the support you deserve.