STAYING POSITIVE IN 2023

Wondering how to think positively in the New Year, despite the uncertainties that cloud your mind? Here are several things you can do to stay positive in 2023:

  • Practice gratitude:
    Take a few minutes each day to think about the things you are thankful for. This can help you focus on the positive aspects of your life and cultivate an overall feeling of positivity.
  • Get enough sleep:
    Getting enough sleep is important for your physical and mental health. Try to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise regularly:
    Exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress. Find an activity you enjoy, such as walking, running, dancing, or cycling, and make it a regular part of your routine.
  • Eat a healthy diet:
    Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods can help you feel your best and keep your energy levels up.
  • Practice mindfulness:
    Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to your thoughts and feelings in the present moment, without judgment. It can help you stay focused and grounded and improve your overall sense of well-being.
  • Connect with others:
    Humans are social creatures and having strong connections with others is important for our mental health. Make time to spend with friends and family, and seek out opportunities to connect with others who share your interests and values.
  • Give yourself permission to fail:
    Allow yourself permission to fail from time to time without judgement. Everyone fails at some point, but it doesn’t have to be seen as indicative of failure overall; use it instead as an opportunity to learn.
  • Focus on progress rather than perfection:
    You don’t need everything to be perfect all at once. Focus instead on celebrating even small successes which add up over time.
  • Prioritise ‘me-time’ every day:
    Allow yourself enough time each day through activities such as meditation, mindfulness practices or simply enjoying silence; this helps maintain balance between mind, body and spirit.
  • Talk kindly with yourself:
    Pay attention to any unhelpful thoughts going through your mind and question them if necessary! Be mindful of negative language and thoughts about yourself.
  • Embrace change:
    Don’t be afraid to try something new. Making changes in our lives is often essential for personal growth.
  • Set boundaries:
    Boundaries are an essential part of maintaining a sense of well-being and building a joyful life. Whether you want to establish boundaries in your personal or professional life, these work to protect you, whilst also helping you to establish your own identity. Without them, we can lose touch with our intuition and end up feeling burnt out and resentful.
  • Disconnect with a digital detox:
    A digital detox is a period during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones, computers, and tablets, to improve their overall well-being. A digital detox can help you reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and increase productivity. It can also be a way to reconnect with the world around you and to engage in activities that do not involve screens.
  • Acts of kindness:
    Acts of kindness are actions taken to help or benefit someone else, often without expecting anything in return. These acts can be small, such as holding the door open for someone, or they can be more significant, like volunteering time or resources to a charitable cause. Performing acts of kindness has been shown to have many benefits, including improving mood and well-being, strengthening social connections, and creating a sense of purpose and meaning.
  • Immerse yourself in nature
    After restrictions and lockdowns, embracing the great outdoors has become even more necessary, especially as time spent in nature can improve mood, boost resilience, and reduce stress. Moments of escapism can be found wherever you’re staying, be it a hike, a walk in a park or spending time in your garden.
  • Seek help and support:
    Several factors contribute to higher rates of depression, suicide, and addiction in the LGBT community. One may be the discrimination and stigma that LGBT individuals often face. This can lead to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and a lack of acceptance, which can in turn contribute to poor mental health. Additionally, LGBT individuals may have a harder time accessing mental health care and may be less likely to seek help due to fear of discrimination. This year, don’t hesitate to seek out supportive mental health resources and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
EMH’s mental health support team offers free in-person, telephonic or online counselling (individual or couples), and referrals to gay, bi and other men who have sex with men in Johannesburg. If you’re experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety or dealing with trauma, relationship problems, or even stress about coming out, WhatsApp call or message 063 649 5116. (We can also refer you to other services outside the Johannesburg area.)
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Festive season greetings and closing period

OUT LGBT Well-Being, Engage Men’s Health and our related services are taking a break for the festive season from Thursday 15 December 2022 until Tuesday 3 January 2023 (except the EMH office in NMB which will open on Monday 9 January 2023).

We wish our clients, funders, partners, friends and their loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year ahead.

  • Should you have an emergency, such as needing urgent PEP, please go to your local clinic or Dischem pharmacy.
  • If you need urgent counselling while we are closed, please contact LifeLine’s 24-Hour Counselling Line on 0861 322 322.
  • To reach the Suicide Crisis Helpline contact 0800 567 567 or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 456 789.
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Festive Season Pink Donation Drive

Support LGBTIQ people in need this festive season! We are collecting donated items for homeless, unemployed, and underprivileged LGBTIQ people in Gauteng.

You can drop off non-perishable food items, clothes (old and new), toiletries, and anything else you wish to donate at our donation boxes in Johannesburg and Pretoria from 23 November to 13 December 2022, at these locations:

  • OUT LGBT Well-Being
    1310 Stanza Bopape Street, Colbyn, Pretoria
    012 430 3272
  • Engage Men’s Health Melville
    27 Boxes, 74, 4th Ave, Melville, 2092 (look for the signs)
    010 500 0934

Please be so kind as to share this and help us reach as many people as possible. Thank you.

This campaign is a partnership between OUT LGBT Well-Being and Partners For Sustainable Development Solutions, an NGO that helps sex workers and LGBTIQ migrants with social issues and challenges.

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STIs: WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY ARE LEFT UNTREATED?

Will an STI go away on its own? This question doesn’t have an easy answer as STIs can be very different in nature.

Some viral STIs remain with you forever, like herpes and HIV, although they can be managed. Others, such as hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV), are preventable through vaccines, but cannot be cured.

It’s also possible for the immune system to defeat hepatitis B virus and HPV — but in some cases, these viruses are able to settle in the body for a long time, causing chronic infections that can endure for life and even lead to cancer. Left untreated, syphilis can kill, and gonorrhea can cause infertility.

Non-viral bacterial STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can be cured. However, they often have no symptoms, or symptoms can come and go, giving the impression that an infection has gone while it has not.

This all means that you can’t know your STI status without getting tested as you can’t self-diagnose an STI based on possible symptoms and then assume the infection went away when symptoms subside. With some of the worst STI cases there isn’t a progression of symptoms; the disease could go from symptomless to life-threatening with nothing in between. If you are unaware that you have an STI you will likely be infecting others with it.

That’s why it important to get tested as this can uncover a problem before it causes too much havoc and clear the way for treatment. Getting treated is not only good for your health but will also allow you to avoid passing on the STI to your partner/s.

HIV

What is it: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

Initial symptoms: In the weeks following infection, HIV may cause fever, sore throat, fatigue, and/or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.

If left untreated: The initial symptoms often subside after infection — even for years while the virus slowly chips away at your immune system. if left untreated, HIV will progress to a stage of infection called AIDS. This is when the immune system has been compromised, and the body is less able to defend itself against potentially life-threatening infections. People that live with untreated HIV will usually see AIDS develop within 2-10 years and will then have a life expectancy of around 3 years unless they get treatment with ARVs.

Treatment: Can be effectively treated with ARVs (Antiretrovirals) but not cured.

GONORRHOEA AND CHLAMYDIA 

What they are: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) caused by bacteria and spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Initial symptoms: Most commonly an inflammation of the urethra, which can result in a painful, burning feeling when you pee. But you can have either one or have no symptoms at all.

If left untreated: These STIs can lead to more serious infections around the testes. Gonorrhoea can also spread throughout the body where it can infect the joints, causing damage and pain within weeks of infection.

You can also pass the infections on to sexual partners. In rare cases, both can potentially lead to infertility as well.

Treatment: Can be treated with antibiotics.

GENITAL OR ANAL WARTS (HPV)

What it is: HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection. There is no cure for the virus (HPV) itself, but there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause, such as genital warts.Genital HPV spreads through skin-to-skin contact during sex. You can get infected in the:

  • penis
  • testicles
  • anus
  • groin and thighs
  • tongue and top of the mouth

Initial symptoms: Often, none. May develop into small or large, flat or raised, or cauliflower-shaped warts. They might appear as a bump or group of bumps in the area surrounding the penis, anus, or genitals. Most of the time, warts do not often hurt but can be unsightly. The area where warts can be very painful is on the anus.

If left untreated: In most cases, HPV goes away on its own within two years without health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. The STI can cause oral and penile cancers in men.

Treatment: There is no treatment for HPV itself, but genital warts can be treated or removed if they’re bothersome. Using condoms can lower your chances of getting infected or of spreading the disease.

HERPES

What it is: Two types of viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex, as well as through contact with a herpes sore or with the saliva or genital secretions of someone with the infection.There is no cure for genital herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks.

Initial symptoms: Most people infected with HSV-1 have no idea that they have herpes. The immune system can handle the virus so that it doesn’t result in cold sores. With HSV-2, the most common symptom is genital sores, though only a fraction of infected people have symptoms.

If left untreated: Generally speaking, herpes causes more embarrassment than serious health concerns. But if you’re suffering from herpes outbreaks and not treating them, they can continue or get worse. The bigger issue with not treating outbreaks is that you could pass the virus along to a partner.

Treatment: There is no cure for herpes, but people with recurrent outbreaks — cold sores or genital ones — can benefit from anti-virals, which can help lessen the outbreaks’ severity. When taken daily, these meds can also lower the likelihood that you’ll pass herpes onto a sexual partner.

HEPATITIS B

What it is: Hepatitis B is caused by a virus and can be sexually transmitted through blood or bodily fluids. While the symptoms of hepatitis B can be flu-like at first, the disease should be taken very seriously because it affects the liver. Symptoms can take up to six months to develop and the disease often goes undetected until it has become severe.

If left untreated:

  • Jaundice, which is a condition in which the skin, whites of the eyes and mucous membranes turn yellow because of a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment.
  • Mild to severe liver infection, fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer, and even death.

Treatment: Symptoms can be treated and managed, but there is no cure for hepatitis B, however, more than 90% of healthy adults who contract the virus will recover naturally from it within the first year.

HEPATITIS C

What it is: Hepatitis C is the most serious of the hepatitis infections and one of the top causes of adult liver transplants. With many individuals, there are no symptoms of hepatitis C present for years until the infection has progressed to a very severe state. When symptoms finally do occur, they can be very similar to other conditions, such as the flu.

If left untreated: Hepatitis C can cause jaundice, cirrhosis, cancer, and end-stage disease of the liver. Hepatitis C can also cause confusion, sleepiness, and disorientation due to toxin build-up in the brain caused by liver cirrhosis, as well as stroke or heart attack, kidney failure, type-2 diabetes, gallstones, thyroid diseases, hypertension, and even death.

Treatment: There is not currently a vaccine for hepatitis C. However, new and improved treatments are available from private doctors that can clear hepatitis C for many individuals.

Getting tested regularly for STIs is the best way to protect yourself and your partners. EMH offers free STI testing/screening and treatment to gay, bi, and other MSM. DM or call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.

 

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THE BENEFITS OF COUNSELLING MAY SURPRISE YOU

Anxiety and depression can lead to negative outcomes if not dealt with. That’s just one of the reasons why stigmatising the idea of seeking professional help to treat mental wellness issues needs to come to an end.

In fact, seeking professional assistance should be normalised in society as mental wellness is as important as any person’s physical health and should be given the same attention. After all, everyone goes through difficult situations in life, no matter how hard they try to evade them.

But counselling is not just useful for when people face a crisis, it can be of benefit to just about anyone who is seeking to change habits, deal with confusing or unhappy feelings and thoughts, or just seeking clarity about themselves. Counselling allows a person to have someone to talk to without worrying about being judged or ridiculed.

Here are some of the benefits of counselling:

  • Relieves unpleasant emotions
  • Develops openness and acceptance
  • Improves communication and interpersonal skills
  • Greater self-acceptance and improved self-esteem
  • Helps you change self-defeating behaviours/habits
  • Supports better expression and management of emotions, including anger
  • Relief from depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions
  • Increased confidence and decision-making skills
  • Ability to manage stress effectively
  • Improved problem-solving and conflict-resolution abilities
  • Greater sense of self and purpose
  • Recognition of distorted thinking
  • Paves way for new perspectives and a more positive outlook on life
  • Resolves internal conflicts
  • Nurtures mental wellness

Engage Men’s Health offers free telephonic, online, or in-person counselling sessions in Johannesburg. Sessions are currently available every Thursday from 9:00 till 15:00. To make an appointment for free mental wellness support, call or WhatsApp 063 649 5107  (office hours).

NB: We are only able to respond on weekdays from 8:30 to 16:30. If you contact us outside these hours, we’ll reply as soon as we’re available again.

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IS IT TIME TO STEP OUTSIDE?

Coming out as LGBTQ+ is a deeply personal choice and you should never feel pressured to do it. It can be a life-changing experience that affects how you choose to show up in the world from that moment on. 

Whether you’re 16 or 40, coming out can be a challenge and many people delay or choose not to come out at all. And that’s fine too. There are many reasons why some people don’t want to take that step:

  • Cultural or religious reasons
  • Confusion or not being sure about their sexuality or gender identity
  • Afraid of rejection, losing family support and/or disappointing or shaming the family, and even being thrown out of the home
  • Afraid that people’s behaviour might change, being treated differently or losing friends
  • Fear that they will face discrimination or violence
  • Internalised homophobia: i.e., feeling shame or hatred about their sexuality

It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous or even anxious about coming out. Sharing something very deep about yourself can be daunting as you are letting someone into a part of your life that has been kept hidden for a while. And people on the receiving end of that kind of news might not be ready to hear what you have to say (although you might be surprised about how people react in comparison to what you expect).

Most importantly, come out only if it is safe to do so. If you have real concerns that you could face a violent response or be thrown out of your home, you may want to wait. Your safety should be your most important consideration.

If you have decided that coming out is something you want to do, here are some steps to help prepare you:

  1. Make sure you’re ready

Coming out is a personal decision. And it’s completely up to you if and when you decide to do it. Go with your gut. And remember that coming out isn’t an isolated once-off incident, it’s an ongoing process of being open and honest with yourself and others, which usually gets easier over time. That process is different for everyone though. So don’t feel pressured to do it before you’re ready.

  1. Tell someone that you trust

The hope is that eventually telling someone you’re LGBTQ+ will become an easy matter-of-fact statement, but that first time will likely be pretty difficult. It might take you a couple of tries before you can even get out the words. Therefore, tell someone whom you trust and who you know cares about you, like a close friend, an easy-going relative or even someone who’s already identified themselves as LGBTQ+.

  1. Plan it out beforehand

You don’t have to write out exactly what you’re going to say. But having an idea of how you’re going to address the topic isn’t a bad thing. Be straightforward. Avoid the urge to apologise excessively or make excuses. You control the tone of this conversation. People will pick up on your attitude and often try to mirror it. So don’t be down on yourself. Be honest, and if you feel up to it, try sprinkling in a little humour. It can go a long way to ease a tense situation.

  1. Be prepared for the response

Whether in person or in a letter, the person that you’re telling might already know and if they did, this revelation might be a relief for them too because they can stop pretending. But not everyone will react to your news calmly. Don’t freak out if a person’s initial reaction is strong or emotional. Think about how long you’ve known that you’re LGBTQ+ so be open to giving the person you’re telling some time to come to grips with your coming out. Let them ask questions and be prepared to answer them as honestly as possible.

  1. You’re not alone

Make connections within the LGBTQ+ community, even if it’s only online. There are so many great resources out there and so many people who can surround you with love and support. You might have some bad experiences coming out but you’ll eventually find that more and more of these interactions will go well. There’s nothing healthier, and nothing braver than living openly as yourself.

If you’re in the Johannesburg area and would like someone to talk to about coming out, the EMH Mental Health Support Team offers free counselling for gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men. In-person, telephonic, or online.

To make an appointment or for more info, DM us or WhatsApp or call 063 649 5116. Please note: We are only available on weekdays from 8:30 to 16:30. If you contact us outside these hours, we’ll reply as soon as we’re available again.

 

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U=U IT’S FOR BOTH OF YOU

U=U is an international campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of ARVs and to educate people about how effective they are at treating HIV. U=U is an abbreviation for “Undetectable = Untransmittable”.

U=U means that a person living with HIV who sticks to their HIV treatment can reach a point where they can no longer transmit the virus.

Here’s how it works: With any virus, the likelihood of transmitting it depends on the amount of virus in your body (called “viral load”). HIV drugs called antiretrovirals (ARVs) prevent the virus from reproducing (making copies of itself).

An HIV-positive person who goes on and stays on ARV treatment can suppress the HIV in their body. If the HIV is not able to reproduce, it cannot infect new cells in your body and your viral load remains low. With a low viral load, you are more likely to have a healthy immune system. And the lower your viral load, the less likely you are to transmit HIV to others.

A person living with HIV is considered to have an ‘undetectable’ viral load when ARV treatment has brought the amount of virus in their body to such low levels that blood tests cannot detect it. Only by going on and staying on ARVs can you achieve an HIV undetectable status.

Scientists have proven that someone who is HIV-positive and whose viral load is ‘undetectable’ cannot transmit the virus during sex to their partners, even without using condoms. The chances of someone who is HIV-positive and undetectable passing HIV onto someone else is 0%.

Remember that ARVs cannot cure HIV. Even when your viral load is undetectable, there are still ‘resting’ or latent HIV cells in areas of your body, called ‘reservoirs.’ That means that when you stop taking ARVs, the virus will start reproducing again.

An HIV-positive person needs to stay on ARVs for life, but they can manage the condition effectively and can live as long as someone who is HIV-negative.

To become undetectable, you must use ARVs consistently and have your viral load checked and confirmed regularly by a health care provider, such as Engage Men’s Health.

To find out more, to get onto, or to get back onto ARVs, WhatsApp call or message us on 082 607 1686. No judgement, no stigma!

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THE SEVEN PILLARS OF A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP

There are seven “pillars” that make up a strong relationship, and if all seven are healthy, your partnership is likely to be stable and fulfilling.

The pillars all support one another so if one fails, the others get weaker and are more prone to fall as well. This may set off a domino effect that could lead to the breakdown of a previously solid relationship.

The good news is that a pillar can be rebuilt but it can take time and effort. If you sense that one of your relationship pillars is starting to become unstable, repair it before it fully crumbles.

Here are the seven pillars of a strong relationship:

  1. Honesty

In relationships, as in all aspects of life, honesty is essential. If you lie to your partner, you are creating barriers to prevent your partner from understanding who you really are. Keeping a distance from your partner does not make for a strong connection.

Being honest with yourself about who you are, what you want, where you’re going, and how you’re feeling is also vital. You cannot be honest with your partner if you are not honest with yourself.

  1. Trust

Nothing weakens a relationship faster than damaged trust. Trust may be easily given at first but after it is betrayed, it is quite hard to restore.

The term “trust” refers to your partner’s ability to believe what you say. It’s important they have full confidence in you: Trust that you won’t harm them and that you will be loyal to them. This trust runs from the little things in your relationship to all the major elements that are significant to your partnership.

One’s trust might become repeatedly weakened by small things to the point that even the slightest problem can cause it to break.

  1. Respect

You have to respect your partner’s needs and wants, their weaknesses and strengths, as well as their dreams and goals. You must embrace who they are. Don’t try to mold them into your image or try to change them into what you believe they ought to be. Never treat them badly when they disagree with you. The world is rarely clear-cut or divided into right and wrong. It’s important to have this in mind and accept the fact that their differences don’t need to be “corrected”.

And if you truly respect your partner, you won’t disrespect them to other people when he isn’t there.  Doing so, even if your partner never finds out, only weakens your respect for them further.

  1. Communication

Almost every aspect of a relationship involves communication. It’s hard to trust someone who won’t communicate with you. It’s hard to have intimacy without communication. It’s impossible to resolve problems without effective communication.

That’s why it’s important to know how to communicate well and effectively.  A big part of this is body language. Become aware of your body language, and make sure that it reflects the actual words that come out of your mouth. For example, if you are not really listening to what your partner is saying, it will show up in your body language.

Most people mistake talking for communication but listening is just as important (if not more so). And not just listening, but active listening. Don’t make conversations a competition where you talk over each other, don’t try to “fix” everything your partner tells you, and don’t be waiting for them to stop talking so you can speak.

Focus on things that you have in common. That’s what brings you together.

  1. Attention

Attention is to give something or someone importance in your life.  Everyone knows this fact but being consciously aware of it and actively ensuring that you are showing up for people when life gets busy or demanding is much rarer.

When you give your partner and your relationship attention, they will notice and respond. When you give them less, they will notice that, too. You need to give them your attention in ways that show that you are thinking about them, not about you.

Giving your partner attention doesn’t necessarily even involve time with them.  It can be picking out something that they will like and getting it for them, or making them something, or planning a trip that they will enjoy. Giving them attention simply means spending time, thought and energy on them.

  1. Intimacy

Many relationships drift from being boyfriends/husbands to a friend type of relationship because of a lack of intimacy.

Intimacy doesn’t just mean sexual intimacy, although that is important, too. It means dropping the walls you have inside of you and letting your partner see the deeper and more vulnerable parts of you.

It means trusting them enough to let them into where they can hurt you. The more intimacy your relationship has, the stronger it will be, provided that the intimacy is mutual.  When only one person allows the other past their walls, it is very hard, and very tiring, on the other person.  It also starts affecting other pillars, as the person who does open their walls will start to wonder why the other doesn’t, whether the other person cares and if they can continue to count on the other person. Your relationship can only be as strong as your intimacy allows.

  1. Commitment

Commitment doesn’t have to be marriage. It simply means that you can rely on the other person to be there, to put effort into your relationship, and to keep you near the top of their list of priorities.

Commitment also means that you are willing to stick with your partner to work through difficult times and not give up or run when things get challenging.

 

Though each of these pillars means something different individually, each pillar is related to at least two others.  For example, it is very difficult to have trust without honesty while the lack of attention to your partner also weakens your commitment to them.

When you think about the relationship between pillars and a building, it makes it easy to see why it’s important to regularly ensure that they are strong. The crumbling of one pillar can start to weaken the overall structure and as more pillars fail, ultimately bring it all down.

 

Engage Men’s Health has a service called You In Mind. We offer free telephonic, online, or in-person counseling sessions in Johannesburg. You get three sessions and it’s important to complete all of them. Sessions are available Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:00 till 15:00.

To make an appointment for free mental health support, call or WhatsApp 063 649 5107  (office hours).

 

 

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HIV+ DIAGNOSIS: 10 TIPS TO LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as HIV, can have a significant emotional impact. A person may feel shocked, anxiety, anger or depression – all normal emotions in that situation. Here are 10 tips to help you deal with some of the stresses of being diagnosed with HIV.

  1. Take care of yourself

Try not to think about yourself negatively and don’t judge or blame yourself. Read our article about why mental health is important (link to Why mental health is important). This is an excellent time to reinvest in your spirituality whether it’s religion, self-care audiobooks, finding positive content on YouTube or taking up yoga. Find what works for you.

  1. Stay connected

Feeling isolated can make you feel sad and stressed, or it can make these feelings worse. Try to keep in regular contact with people who are important to you. Hang out with people that will nourish and not drain your energy. Talking about your experiences and feelings with a loved one, or another person living with HIV can be very helpful.\

  1. Get support

You don’t have to deal with your problems by yourself. Sometimes it’s best to ask for some help. This isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength that you recognise that you need some help. If you’re finding your thoughts and feelings difficult to understand or deal with, there are groups like Positively Alive that offer excellent support. If you are in Johannesburg, you can also contact EMH for telephonic, online or in-person counselling (details below).

  1. Be careful when using alcohol and drugs

For many people, having a drink or occasionally using recreational drugs is an enjoyable part of life. But try not to use alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with difficult feelings. This might offer short-term relief, but in the long term, it’s likely to make your feelings harder to deal with.

It’s important to condition yourself and to be disciplined in taking your ARVs every day and at the same time so that it becomes a habit (link to adherence article). Heavy drinking and drug-taking might mean you find it harder to remember to take your anti-HIV medication. If you are worried about your alcohol consumption or drug use, you can read about what you can do about it (link to “How do I know I have a problem”).

  1. Reduce stress

Try to balance the various aspects of your life like family time, work, you-time and getting enough sleep. Try to deal with work, relationships, family, money or domestic problems as soon as you notice them. Avoiding them can increase your levels of stress.

  1. Do things you enjoy

It’s important to do things you enjoy when you’re going through a difficult time. This could include making time for a hobby you already have, walking your dog, listening to music or setting yourself a goal to try something new.

  1. Eat well

It can be hard to eat well if you’re feeling sad, stressed or worried, but try to make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet. Using ready meals and pre-prepared foods can be helpful if you’re finding it hard to shop and cook. Sitting down and eating a meal, especially with someone else, can help you cope with stress and improve your wellbeing.

  1. Get some exercise

Regular physical exercise can help you manage stress and help you sleep. It can also help with the symptoms of anxiety and mild depression. You don’t have to join a gym. Find an activity that you enjoy such as walking around a local park, doing some gardening, or riding a bike. Exercising with someone else, or in a group, may make it more enjoyable and help you feel connected to other people.

  1. Practise mindfulness

Many people find practising mindfulness helps them with their day-to-day well-being. It’s a technique you can learn that involves paying attention to the present moment. It helps you to focus on your thoughts and feelings and the world around you. Some people also find that prayer, meditation, or quiet reflection can help reduce stress.

  1. Get informed

Our deep fear of the unknown not only scares us, but it can scramble our brains. The less you know about HIV, the bigger you are going to build it up in your head. That’s why it is important to read as much as you can about HIV and ARV treatment. Getting informed not only empowers you but it also helps with unnecessary worrying and puts you on the road to accepting your HIV status. Be careful what you read and where you get your information from. Only invest in the latest HIV information from trustworthy and reputable sources or organisations.

EMH offers free telephonic, online, or in-person counseling sessions in Johannesburg for gay and other men who have sex with men.  You get three sessions and these are free of charge. Sessions are available Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:00 till 15:00. To make an appointment for free mental health support, please WhatsApp message/call our mental health support team on 063 649 5107.

EMH also offers free HIV and other STI testing and/or treatment to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). We have services in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. WhatsApp message/call us on 082 607 1686 for more information or to book an appointment. 

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HIV and Mental Health

The link between HIV and mental health is often overlooked in conversations around HIV. Being diagnosed with and living with a serious and chronic illness, such as HIV, can have a significant emotional impact.

While, yes, the cliché that “HIV is not a death sentence anymore” is true thanks to modern ARVs (that are very effective at managing the virus), the reality is that living with HIV can make various aspects of life more challenging and stressful. These, in turn, can add to a person’s mental health challenges.

Another significant reason why people living with HIV are at higher risk of mental health challenges compared to those seen in the general population is HIV-related stigma. Stigma is the word used to describe the unjustified negative beliefs and attitudes that some people have about something.

Stigma is one of the reasons that some people with HIV end up feeling bad about themselves because of their diagnosis. It can be difficult for anybody, including people living with HIV, to avoid some of the harmful ideas and beliefs that exist about HIV.

“Internalised stigma” or “self-stigma” happens when a person takes in the negative ideas and stereotypes about people living with HIV and starts to apply them to themselves. HIV internalised stigma can lead to feelings of shame, fear of disclosure, isolation, and despair.

Adjusting to life with HIV

Finding out that you have HIV can lead to a wide range of feelings. It’s common to feel fear, uncertainty, worry, guilt, shame, embarrassment, anger and sadness after a diagnosis. You might also be concerned about what other people will think. Some people feel numb, while others feel a sense of relief that they’ve finally found out about their status. There’s no right way to feel – we are all different.

It can be easy to assume the worst about life with HIV. But it’s important to know that HIV treatment (URL link to HIV and ARVs) is now so effective that most people with HIV can expect to live as long as people who don’t have HIV. Treatment can also prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. That means that if you consistently take ARV treatment and have an ‘undetectable viral load’ (link to U=U) you won’t pass HIV on to your sexual partners.

The feelings people have about HIV often change over time. Your first response to finding out that you have HIV is unlikely to be the way you feel forever. Many people find that they come to terms with having HIV over time, even if some aspects of being HIV positive still make them feel anxious or distressed.

It’s important to know that it’s completely normal and understandable to have feelings that you find difficult. You shouldn’t feel bad about the emotions you’re experiencing. Many people with HIV find that their emotional well-being is affected from time to time, no matter how well they have adjusted to their diagnosis.

Becoming aware of these emotions and accepting them is an important first step. Remember that your difficult feelings and thoughts will pass, and that mental health support such as counselling and support groups will also help.

EMH offers free telephonic, online, or in-person counseling sessions in Johannesburg. You get three sessions and it’s important to complete all of them. Sessions are available Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:00 till 15:00. To make an appointment for free counseling with an Engage Men’s Health social worker, call or WhatsApp 063 649 5107.

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