Roy Trevelion is currently a member of the UK Community Advisory Board. He continues to work around the health and wellbeing of older! HIV positive men.
Roy is a patient of the Bloomsbury Clinic, Mortimer Market Centre
What are the mental health issues for long-term HIV+ gay men? And how do we call attention to them? Let me briefly explain. A man who is 65 this year would have been born into an era when his homosexuality was criminalised. In the 1960s he would have spent his teenage years which are of course the years of the onset of puberty – knowing that if he were found to be ‘guilty’ of homosexuality he could be one of many sent to prison.
Homosexual behaviour was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967 when this man was 18 years old – at which point he was told that he would have to wait until he was 21 before he could have legal homosexual sex. And if, at 21, his chosen partner turned out to be only 20, then both of them could be prosecuted. The law was not changed in Scotland until 1980, and in Northern Ireland in 1982.
In the years that followed decriminalisation homophobia was still rampant. Gay men were still exploited by police ‘agents provocateurs’, often, we suspect, to increase police numbers of arrests.
Then in the 1980s we lived through the AIDS epidemic when we had to become experts, for ourselves and for those we loved, in palliative care. We experienced multiple bereavements – all of this against a backdrop of continuing prejudice and stigma, often coming from within our own families
Today caring for the poor mental health of some long-term HIV+ gay men is ignored and replaced by an attitude that suggests the past was all ‘a long time ago’. Yes, it was, but in other population groups psychologists might ask whether we were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because we had experienced and suffered these events.
Clearly there is still much needed work to be done to fully address the mental health needs of some HIV+ gay men who lived through those years and understandably are still affected by them today.