There once was a thing called AIDS

I went back to Mathari today. The consultation was held in a room at a ward so I had more than one conversation with an inpatient user of the services. More than once I thought, “There, but for the grace of god, go I.”

Today is World AIDS Day and, for those of us born after a certain time, we have never known anything other than ‘Love in the time of HIV’ as a BBC documentary once called it. It takes reading articles from that past, watching footage, hearing stories to realise just how much fear and stigma there once was.

As I waited to see the psychiatriast, the clinical psychologist, the counsellor today; I thought about all the ways the stigma attached to HIV & AIDS was reduced. Ordinary people who spoke up in the face of death, brave men and women who stood by their friends as they spoke truth, all the money poured into it.

We need a revolution like this in mental health. We need to get to a point where we are open to seeking help, even when the help comes complete with a label (Massive Depressive Disorder, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, *insert your own here). We need to be able to speak honestly about it, to have ads that make us squirm on TV, to produce books, documentaries, shorts (who remembers ‘Scenarios from the Sahel’?) about mental health.

Are we anywhere near the Promised Land with HIV/AIDS? I don’t think so. But we’re talking… And I can’t wait for a time when ‘That woman has been to Mathari’ has the same ring as ‘That woman has HIV’.

I am a woman who has been to Mathari. I thought, for the first time since I became aware of World AIDS Day, about mental health today.

I’d love to keep having these conversations.

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at

Questions, comments, suggestions or ideas for mental health stigma reduction? Send them to



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