Author: Dara Yah’ya, Youth Development & Welness Manager
Just 14 days earlier she shared how nervous she was to disclose her status to her boyfriend. Now here she was back at Group sharing her success story. “I used the plan we talked about at camp. At first he made me mad, but I calmed myself down and educated him. I realized he was really ignorant about it. I had to tell him that you can’t get it that way. At the end he said, ‘You just have to stay healthy and keep taking your medicine; we’ll be fine” That day at Group, Katrina’s story about how supportive her boyfriend was quelled the fears that most everyone in the room had: ‘Will I be lonely, can I ever have a family?’
Before camp, Katrina avoided her doctor’s appointments and sometimes skipped medication to avoid anyone finding out about her diagnosis. Plus, she said doing those things sent her into a whirlwind of self-judgement. Who would ever understand, who would not judge her? Ashley, another client living with a mental health diagnosis, gave this same reason as to why she would sometimes not pick up her prescriptions. Through Youth Development & Wellness (YDW) Care Navigation Services and Wellness Support Groups both girls get accompanied to appointments when they need it most; and they receive support to help them stay engaged in health care services and community resources ensuring they get the full spectrum of care necessary to attain maximum health. Katrina is now preparing to be a Youth Haven Kids Camp Counselor to support younger children in dealing with HIV, Mental Health, and Substance Use stigmas. She says her advice to them will be, “It doesn’t matter how people think; get the help that keeps you healthy and keep the friends who accept you and make you feel great.”
In addition to taking care of herself because of the program, Katrina is actively helping to end the HIV epidemic by being open about her diagnosis where it matters and educating others. Science has proven that a person successfully on treatment cannot transmit the HIV virus. In this new era where treatment is prevention and people living with HIV can have a full and vibrant life, it leaves STIGMA as one of the major obstacles to ending the HIV epidemic and it remains a serious barrier to treatment for mental health and substance use. YDW provides stigma-reduction, youth-focused services and individual support to help young people like Katrina and Ashley normalize their conditions and understand that seeking treatment is just like being treated for any other condition (e.g., taking insulin for diabetes).
Katrina and Ashley are doing their part, the question is, are you doing yours? Get tested, seek treatment, and at all times interrupt stigma. YDW offers a Facts Not Fear training to teach churches and community members how to reduce stigma and become more compassionate and supportive. Want to schedule a presentation in your congregation? Contact Dara Yah’ya at YahyaD@LSSNCA.org.