Leading HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust has launched a brand new, Scotland-wide peer support service, to enable people to live well with HIV.

Although advances in medication mean that people with HIV can now live long and healthy lives medically, they still face stigma and discrimination, which can lead to isolation and low self-esteem. Nearly 60 per cent of people with HIV in Scotland have experienced low self-esteem, and a quarter have felt suicidal. [1]

Now, Peer Support Scotland, funded by the Big Lottery Fund Scotland, will bring together people living with HIV to share their experiences, knowledge and advice, to support others diagnosed with the virus, boosting self-esteem and combating isolation.

Thanks to funds raised by National Lottery players, this grant means that people living with and affected by HIV, and hepatitis C, including friends and family, will be able to access a range of new services, including social activities, support groups, one-to-one peer meetings, and family workshops, wherever they are in Scotland.

To address isolation the charity will provide group telephone support sessions, where people from rural areas, such as the islands, can dial in, from the comfort of their own home, to an anonymous and confidential call with others living with HIV or hepatitisC.

Jane*, whose husband was diagnosed with HIV in 2001, says their family would be broken without the support of Terrence Higgins Trust. “Before we were in touch with Terrence Higgins Trust, my husband couldn’t talk about his HIV, and I knew very little because what I remembered was from the 80s and the tombstone adverts,” said Jane.

“Terrence Higgins Trust helped Jim* open up and taught us so much. They’ve given us the confidence to talk to our daughter and granddaughter about HIV, and their workshops and groups allow us to ask questions we’d previously been scared to ask.

“I don’t think we’d be a family unit today if it wasn’t for the support of Terrence Higgins Trust. My daughter is now hoping to volunteer with the charity to give something back, and to tell more people about what it’s really like to live with HIV today.”

Robert McKay, National Director of Terrence Higgins Trust in Scotland, said: “We know that general support services often don’t understand, or have up-to-date knowledge about the realities of living with HIV in 2017. This can mean people face unnecessary stigma and judgement, at a time when they need understanding and support.

“That’s why this new peer-support service will use people’s lived experience, and our charities’ expertise, to provide a confidential, stigma-free service for people with HIV and Hepatitis C in town and cities, as well as in rural areas. We’re extremely grateful to the Big Lottery Fund for its support.

“Positive advocates from across Scotland will be at the heart of this project, receiving training and support to build up their skills and experience to run groups and workshops with their peers.”

Big Lottery Fund Scotland Chair, Maureen McGinn, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to provide National Lottery funding for this life-changing project from Terrence Higgins Trust. The funding will make a big difference to people living with HIV who are experiencing low self-esteem and loneliness, and I wish Terrence Higgins Trust every success as it goes on to develop and expand this project for the benefit of their local community.”

To find out more about Peer Support Scotland, please contact 0141 332 3838 or info.scotland@tht.org.uk.

* Names have been changed.

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