Scots singing star Annie Lennox is backing a campaign by the British Red Cross to end the stigma attached to people with HIV.
The Aberdeen-born musician is among a group of celebrities who appear in a new online video released by the humanitarian organisation, highlighting the plight of people with the disease.
The video also features the story of a young person living with HIV and the isolation he suffered at not feeling able to talk to anyone.
Appearing with Annie are comedian Stephen K. Amos, T4’s Georgie Okell and former Eastenders actor Chris Parker. They ask viewers if they could be the one their friends turn to for support.
Produced by the Red Cross to mark World Aids Day 2011 on 1 December, the video can be viewed at www.redcross.org.uk/worldaidsday
It follows UK-wide research commissioned by the Red Cross, which reveals that one in three young people fear their parents would react negatively to them if they told them they were HIV positive..
And in a further sign that stigma attached to HIV is still strong, almost one in five who took part in the survey said their parents wouldn’t want them to tell anyone else if they had the disease.
Alyson Lewis, British Red Cross lead on HIV, said: “Some of the findings from this survey have been so sad. It’s heartbreaking to think that young people could feel so scared about people’s reactions to HIV that they couldn’t even tell their parents.
“It’s vitally important that we break this stigma and that people are able to feel that their friends and families would be there for them.”
Asking young people how their parents would react if they told them they were HIV positive, the Red Cross survey uncovered remarkable gender differences, with young women and girls (23%) significantly more likely to fear being judged negatively by their parents than young men or boys (16%).
However, some findings were reassuring that stigma is being overcome; more than half of those questioned (51%) said their parents would listen to them and respect their needs, and more than two-thirds (69%) said their parents would love them whatever happened.
Alyson Lewis added: “It is definitely not all bad news. The lack of a supportive relationship for people living with HIV can increase their sense of isolation, but those walls are coming down.
“Having the support of someone close can make a huge difference and help build resilience against HIV. That’s why we’re asking everyone: ‘if someone close told you they were HIV positive, would you be there for them?’”
In their own words
The Red Cross spoke to some young people living with HIV, the quotes below are some of what they told us:
“If someone had died, or if I had cancer, I’d have felt able to reach out immediately to anyone around me – whereas now I had to think about how people would respond and whether I could cope with their response.”
“I felt very isolated and abandoned once told my status. I really wanted to stay with someone that night instead of going home on my own, but didn’t feel I could call anyone close to me because of the stigma around HIV.”
“My mum told me to never ever tell anyone in the family, and that made me feel very alone – she took that decision away from me. There’s a lot of secret and lies and it would be nice to be truthful.”
“I was worried about telling my mum because I feared she’d be over-bearing and overly concerned, but she was amazing. She looked shocked, but then said: ‘You’re still my son and I love you – you can tell me anything and I’ll stand by you through it all’. She gave me the confidence to tell others.”
“The first person I told was my friend, who was also HIV positive. I knew he’d understand and be supportive, and that’s what I was hoping for. I didn’t want to be judged: I wanted to be understood. It was such a big relief telling someone, a huge burden off my shoulders.”
“I realise now that I was holding on to all the pressure rather than letting other people deal with it themselves. I can’t control how they will react and it’s too much pressure to try.”
“Coming out about my status has bought me back to myself: I don’t feel I’m hiding part of myself or holding on to this secret. I’m able to be more relaxed, both with myself and other people.”
Notes to editors
The British Red Cross encourages groups of young people all around the UK to come up with creative ideas to raise awareness, and fight discrimination and stigma. Projects involving video, photography and drama are just some of the events being run by groups of students and schools across the UK. www.redcross.org.uk/hivworkuk
Specialist polling agency ResearchBods interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,500 11 – 24 years olds, between 18th – 21st November 2011.
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.
We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies
in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on
with their lives.