In Honor of World AIDS Day 2014

When I graduated from High School in 1986, there was an air of profound fear regarding HIV / AIDS.  We didn’t want to even kiss someone without wearing a condom!  Although fear isn’t very productive, it did help us focus on prevention and protecting ourselves.  Twenty-eight years later, I marvel at all of the advancements in treatment and quality of life for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and am comforted that it’s no longer an automatic “death sentence”.

One of the more interesting ‘side effects’ of research and medical developments has been that HIV / AIDS has gradually become seen as more of a chronic condition like diabetes or hypertension, that with the correct treatment and care, individuals can live healthy, productive lives.  As a result, it seems the significance of its seriousness of HIV / AIDS seems to have lost some of its luster with a younger generation.  Drug advertisements feature robust individuals tackling work and play with vigor and determination.  They omit the realities of treatment for HIV / AIDS, which include significant medication costs, the absolutely necessity of medication compliance, and the impact these medications can have on multiple systems within your body, all of which are experienced by people who have an assumed baseline of  functioning.  However, if you are an individual with an active addiction, the judgment-altering effects of chemicals can lead to an increase in sexual compulsivity, increased risk-taking behaviors, non-compliance with medication, physical deterioration, etc.  In the end, the picture isn’t as photogenic as the advertisements.

At Pride Institute, our focus is promoting an all-encompassing journey towards physical, mental, and emotional wellness, an experience of healing the brain as well as the body and spirit.  Chemical dependency robs people of making healthy, future-focused decisions, and leaves people with what they perceive are correct choices or the only choice at the time, which can have devastating effects.

At Pride Institute, I have worked with clients who have lost everything and everyone they’ve held dear to this horrible disease attempting to have a ‘reality check’ with younger people who see HIV / AIDS as a chronic condition that really won’t impact their future, because there are medications to “deal with all that,” and if so desired, there are “prep” medication regimens that will allow them to continue higher-risk behaviors.  It reminds me of someone who went through the Great Depression trying to instill the importance of being frugal to a Baby Boomer, and not getting anywhere.

Medical advancements in the area of HIV/AIDS have saved countless numbers of people and have made those with the disease live longer and healthier lives.  This is a wonderful, wonderful thing.  But at the end of the day, our focus needs to remain on educating people on the prevention of the disease; not in a manner of fear as I witnessed in the 1980s, but one of common sense and acknowledging that taking preventative steps in reducing your risk are self-care steps. The same approach we implement when providing treatment for chemical dependency every day at Pride Institute.

Jennifer Rae Hackney, RN, PHN, DON

Director of Nursing – Pride Institute