A psychologist holds a condom as she speaks with Denis, aged 20, about HIV prevention at a youth-friendly clinic in the port city of Odessa, Ukraine. The country has one of the fastest-growing HIV infection rates in Europe. |Photo credit: © UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1820/Giacomo Pirozzi
Much has been said at AIDS 2012 about the need for care and support for children and adolescents living with HIV. But Nina Ferencic, UNICEF’s Regional Advisor on HIV and AIDS for the CEE/CIS countries, came away with heightened awareness of a particular aspect of the issue: the importance of incorporating the mental health dimension into care and support for this group.
Nina learned that adolescents living with HIV often have serious difficulties with depression, and can also face other psychological challenges including post-traumatic stress disorder. As a consequence, they may start using substances to cope. She’d like to see a much stronger focus on addressing their mental health needs
Nina was also struck by the approach used in a German HIV prevention campaign aimed at adolescents. Titled “I Know What I’m Doing” (Ich Weiss Was Ist Tu), it conveys the message that teenagers and young people are capable of making their own choices — including choices that might include knowingly risking exposure to HIV infection. The idea, of course, is that they will choose not to risk infection, and will reach that decision on their own — not because they’ve been told to do so.
Many prevention campaigns simply tell young people to protect themselves against the epidemic — and give them information on how to do that — without acknowledging that they have the capacity to make decisions in their own best interest. “I Know What I’m Doing” stands out by emphasizing the fact that adolescents have agency — and trusting that they will use it wisely.