The vicious triangle of HIV, substance abuse, and mental health
Impulse is a sexual and mental health events group for gay men. To mark World AIDS Day 2018, Impulse London will be hosting Momentum – a night of queer music and performance.
I caught up with Kayden Gray to find out what we can expact from the event.
Why is it important that we commemorate World AIDS Day?
World AIDS Day marks a part of our history that’s really impacted the LGBTQ community. It’s important for a number of reasons. It allows us to reassess the progress we’ve made managing the spread of HIV/AIDS and improving the lives of those affected. It gives us a chance to celebrate the outstanding successes we see year after year.
The continued annual visibility is also a much needed reminder that, despite all the medical and social advances, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and all it ties into hasn’t just gone away. About 35 million people globally are living with the virus and a staggering 75 percent of them aren’t aware of their status, even more aren’t receiving treatment. Then, for many of those who are, their quality of life can be seriously compromised due to social stigma. There’s a lot of work still left to be done. Celebrating WAD plays a critical role in raising awareness and tying it all together.
Why is an event like this an appropriate way to commemorate World AIDS Day?
It’s apt because it embodies the very complexity of HIV/AIDS by drawing in different elements. It will engage our audience, encourage reflection, celebrate triumphs. It will certainly be an unapologetic celebration of our raw and powerful sexuality which is still recovering from the crippling effects of the AIDS epidemic. It will be loud in contrast with the under-representation people with HIV/AIDS have been experiencing. Of course, it will be queer as fuck.
You’ve described this event as an immersive celebration. What actually happens at an immersive celebration – are we talking audience participation?
An immersive celebration means we’re making sure that our guests not only have a fantastic time, but also that they engage with some of realities of HIV/AIDS, both past and present. We’re planning to achieve that through attention to detail and, yes indeed, some audience participation.
The focus of the event is on HIV, substance abuse, and mental health – why have those three topics been chosen as focus issues?
Those three issues are actually at the forefront of not just this event, but all the work done by Impulse Group and the AHF, who funds our endeavours. The reason for that is because HIV, mental health and substance use are very much connected. Problems with mental health often lead to substance use, and both of those are barriers we need to overcome in preventing the spread of HIV. Similarly, an HIV diagnosis can cause or deepen existing problems with mental health and, again, lead to substance use as a form of escapism. You could say it’s a vicious triangle.
As well as embracing our past, this event is also about empowering our future – how will the event help to empower our future?
Battling HIV/AIDS has required some extremely radical political acts, especially early on. The story is littered with rallies, protests, even fights with authorities and governments. It’s all been a testimony of resilience for this community. That in itself is extremely empowering, and through this event we want to showcase the contrast between the past and the present where it all looks completely different and more hopeful. We want to emphasise how different. We’ve invited outstanding community speakers, a number of artists, hosts, performers and DJs, and will be exhibiting some exciting pieces of queer art – all to demonstrate how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learnt and that, united, we can end this epidemic once and for all.
What do you hope that people feel when they’re attending this event on World AIDS Day?
I’d love for people to walk away from our night feeling elevated, more knowledgeable and less anxious around the subject of HIV. I really hope that through the immersive experience we’ve prepared, everyone will be able to get a sense of, and be reminded of, just how complex the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS really are, and that it’s very much an ongoing global battle which requires a variety of different approaches, involvement of countless individuals, and a great deal of compassion from our communities.