When I was diagnosed with cancer 9 years ago, I was shocked, but the world came crumbling down when a few months later I requested for an HIV test and it was positive. My social worker at Madison Clinic made sure that I got assisted housing and other services. In that area I was catered for. I had just come to Washington state, so had no friends and no family. This is where isolation and dark moments in my life started. Many times I despaired and was constantly in tears. My social worker referred me to BABES where I found a group of women who, through their stories of living with HIV gave me hope. It kept me going, and I could smile again.
Peer support is crucial in getting people out of isolation due to fear and stigma associated with HIV. The more isolation, the more one despairs, and increased stress, which is a killer. Peers form close friendships that extend beyond just the physical settings of an office etc. For instance, one meets other family, friends, co-workers of their peers, which somehow creates normalcy of life. These relationships involve people from all walks of life, a rich diversity beneficial as resource providers. The information and skills learned from peers can be shared with these extended relationships. This may lead to understanding about the basic facts about HIV/AIDS and the acceptance of people living with this disease. So it has a trickle down effect.
The peer relationships are horizontal whereby, peers don’t see their peers as authority figures, which could be restrictive to sharing or opening up about one’s concerns. Due to shared experience, peers trust, draw strength and information from each other, which then can lead to behavior change.
So peer support plays an important role in the lives of those living with HIV, giving them hope and helping them cope with life’s challenges.