Despite major progress in treatment and prevention, being diagnosed with HIV can have a big emotional impact on individuals. People with HIV have higher rates of mental health problems than those seen in the general population. One reason for this may be HIV-related stigma, explains Professor Alan Winston from the Department of Infectious Disease.
Since the late 1990s, I have been treating people living with HIV and been involved in HIV clinical research. Many things we read about HIV are success stories, and quite rightly we should celebrate these tremendous scientific and medical advances. Life expectancy for someone with HIV is now similar to that of the general population. Antiretroviral therapy generally has manageable side effects and for most individuals, does not incur that many tablets per day. Indeed, many HIV treatments involve taking only one tablet per day. So, why then do so many people with HIV suffer from depression, other mental health conditions, and a poorer quality of life?
Experience in clinic
Most people living with HIV, once on a stable treatment, will attend their treatment centre twice per year. Often appointments rotate between a consultant or medical doctor once per year and a nurse specialist on the other occasion. As we can’t cure HIV, our patients attend for life, and we get to know them very well. At consultations, in addition to routine monitoring, we ask people how they are keeping. What stands out are the number of individuals who report symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions such as anxiety. Whilst many of us suffer from mental health complaints, the burden of these complaints in people living with HIV is very high. Thankfully, we do have help in clinic and have a specific clinic run by a psychiatry nurse specialist we can refer patients to.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex or aseaxual (LGBTQIA+) travellers can face unique challenges when travelling abroad. That’s why, Rosie Maddren, Lucy Okell, Beth Cracknell-Daniels, Joseph Hicks and Christina Aitchison from the School of Public Health set up the LGBTQIA+ International Support Group at Imperial to help improve the overall experience of going abroad for LGBTQIA+ staff and student travellers.
“So are you married?”
I freeze. How do I respond? It seems like a simple enough question, but I’m gay (and so is my spouse). The question is being asked by a taxi driver in a country where not only is same-sex marriage illegal, but so is homosexuality in general. And it’s not just something imposed by the government. A recent poll suggested that 90% of this country’s citizens have a negative view of LGBTQ people. So how do I respond? How would you?
Travelling abroad for work is a rewarding opportunity that can come with challenges for any student or staff member. For those identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, such travel can be associated with further complications. Legal restrictions and societal norms of some countries may make LGBTQIA+ staff and students feel anxious, unwelcome or unsafe. Unfortunately, in certain environments being your true self can directly impact your safety. On the other hand, presenting a censored version of yourself may negatively impact your mental health and wellbeing. There is no single correct way to navigate such situations, and there is limited guidance on this topic provided not only by Imperial, but wider networks across the globe. Last year, a group of us started working together to help build support for LGBTQIA+ staff and student travellers at Imperial.
How can we close the gender gap in STEM? Dr Ilaria Belluomo explores how a new network at Imperial aims to provide a safe space for women to discuss and plan their careers in leadership roles – in and outside academia.
We are all aware of the disparity between the number of men and women in senior academic positions, as well as the limited number of female mentors available to support and inspire young girls interested in pursuing a career in science. This small percentage of female representation can give the impression that a career in science and academia, in the current climate, can be difficult and hard for women to pursue. Things are slowly improving, but we are only at the beginning of initiating this change. We continue to have conversations and work on initiatives to ensure that the academic gender gap can be improved.
As a chronically under-represented and under-researched group, the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ healthcare staff in the workplace are often neglected. Third-year medical student, Avani Ela Kaura, highlights why it’s imperative that we listen, address and support the specific needs of LGBTQ+ people.
Exploring how work-related stress affects LGBTQ+ healthcare professionals in my recent Letter to the Editor was greatly saddening, and a little dark. However, having been published in The BMJ and reaching a wider audience, my hope is that awareness has been raised, granting volume to these silenced voices. This is especially important as the unique yet varied experiences of LGBTQ+ people are in-genuinely, or more frequently, not explored. Despite being at the dawn of my career, I am keen to pioneer a movement of change.
This festive period, Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.
The journey to becoming a clinical academic can be long and arduous, with many obstacles. Dr Maddalena Ardissino, from the National Heart and Lung Institute, reflects on her own experiences as a trainee and explains why mentorship is key to supporting the growth and development of young, aspiring clinical academics.
Almost exactly five years ago, I stood amongst a crowd of young academics at a poster session at the Intensive Care Society’s annual conference, experiencing a feeling of anxiety I’ve never known before or since. I was in my fifth year of medical school and standing in front of a group of excellent researchers who were about to listen to me give my first scientific presentation. It seemed unthinkable to me, at the time, to think that they might have the slightest interest in what I had to say.
Since then, my journey through clinical and academic training has been what I can only describe as an adventure. I quickly realised that there isn’t a single defined path for clinical academics, with each individual moulding a slightly different journey. When I look around at my fellow clinical academics at the National Heart and Lung Institute, however, there is one key feature that we all share: enthusiasm. And behind this feature there is one single, common theme: the support of a truly inspirational mentor.
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.
Clarissa Gardner, founder of the Julia Anderson Training Programme, shares insight into setting up the scheme and provides practical guidance for others on how to use the model within their own organisations.
2020 was a strange year. We lived through a pandemic that took a huge toll on our economy, our mental wellbeing, and for some of us the lives of our loved ones. 2020 was also the year in which there was renewed interest in addressing social injustices that have impacted traditionally underserved communities across the world.
At Imperial College London, like many other academic institutions, there were many discussions being held about our history, curriculum, use of language to describe people, and the representation of students and staff of different backgrounds at various levels. (more…)
How can we foster a sense of authenticity within ethnically minoritised students? Dr Zoe Moula, Teaching Fellow at the School of Public Health, aims to raise awareness of how we can promote a more inclusive educational environment and understand the barriers which can affect a student’s sense of authenticity within higher education.
The underrepresentation of ethnically minoritised students at university, and even more so in medicine, often results in identity suppression in order to ‘fit in’. Yet, this can lead to increased anxiety, and interferes with a student’s ability to succeed academically and professionally. Societal, structural and institutional factors, such as racism, discrimination and socioeconomic inequalities may all play a part into why a student may not be able to express their true self. It is therefore crucial that any effort to promote Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) must also protect and promote a student’s sense of authenticity. (more…)
Jennie Parnham shares insights into an evaluation of Healthy Start, a food assistance policy in England.
Low-income children have a much lower chance of eating a healthy diet than more affluent children, as highlighted by the recent campaigning of Marcus Rashford.
The causes of this disparity are very complex. It’s also important to say that although it’s more likely, it’s not deterministic. Many children of all backgrounds have a healthy diet. However, unfortunately factors tend to cluster together, making a healthy diet less likely for some. Let’s consider a single parent with a young child. One-third of children in single parent households live in poverty and it can cost up to 75% of their disposable income to buy the recommended food for a healthy diet. This is because healthy food is three times more expensive than less healthy foods. In their neighbourhood, there might be more places to buy ultra-processed fast food than healthy food. Finally, they may have less time to prepare healthy food, as there are fewer helping hands at home. In this environment, many families find their options for healthy eating limited. (more…)
Dr Paz Tayal reflects on her experience in the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Rising Talent Awards.
Do we even need an award for ‘Women in Science’? Shouldn’t there be a similar award for men in science? Well, depends on how you look at it, but you could argue all awards over the past 1000 years have been for ‘Men in Science’.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Rising Talent Programme has promoted women in scientific research on a global scale since 1998. The L’Oréal-UNESCO UK and Ireland For Women in Science Programme offer awards from a partnership between L’Oréal-UNESCO UK & Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, with the support of the Royal Society, to promote, enhance and encourage the contribution of women pursuing their research careers in the UK or Ireland. (more…)