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‘Mental health struggles left me wanting to take my own life – the LGBT Foundation pulled me back from the brink’

Patrick Ettenes, who moved to from Barbados to Manchester a decade ago, shares his story of survival.

By Will Stroude

In partnership with Klarna.

In 2020, Pride couldn’t be celebrated quite as loudly or quite as visibly as it has been in the last fifty years, but that’s only made it more important than ever that our community’s stories are heard – and that a light is shone the individuals and groups working to make a difference.

Now, Klarna, the online financial services provider, is helping to champion the work of the LGBT Foundation, which has been changing the lives of LGBT people across the UK since 1975.

For five decades the LGBT Foundation has been providing vital information, services and support to LGBT people with nowhere else to turn.

With service including a range of support groups; face-to-face counselling; national helpline, email and pop-in service; befriending scheme and sexual health programme, the LGBT Foundation has touched every corner of the community, tackling isolation, prejudice and hardship wherever it finds it.

The impact can only be fully understood through lives of the countless LGBTQ people the foundation’s work has helped.

Here, Patrick Ettenes, who was helped by the LGBT Foundation after a series of life-changing events left him struggling with his mental health, shares his story…

My name is Patrick Ettenes, I’m from Barbados I’m 37 years of age and have lived in Manchester for about 10 years. I’m also single (wink, wink).

My story with LGBT Foundation slowly took off ten years ago when I was approached online to help promote their condom and lube scheme. I’m currently seventeen years HIV-positive. At the time, I had my status up online. Someone from the Outreach program contacted me and started asking questions around my HIV status as not many people disclosed their status online.

Through that first encounter I was interviewed for an article around living with HIV. I was then asked to be a columnist in OutNorthWest magazine, where I wrote about my life living with HIV, as they needed a personal view on the matter. Each month for several years, I wrote about my life and all that I’ve noticed in Manchester’s gay scene, the good, the bad, the sexy and the ugly.

I took a lot of abuse for being open and proud about my status. HIV had a taboo around it and I was trying to normalise living with it. I discussed my own issues around living with HIV. Even after enjoying years of acclaim with my articles I can honestly say, it’s not there that my love for LGBT Foundation took place, that came years later.

When I was 30 years old I was in an abusive relationship, I had a nervous breakdown, lost a lot of my memory and had to learn how to walk, talk, and write again. I was homeless and was suffering from substance abuse issues; as a result, I was diagnosed with early on-set dementia.

My love and appreciation for LGBT Foundation came on the day I was carried in through a side entrance to their building to see my previous editor, who watched me try to talk in my paraplegic state. I was homeless and living in a hostel and LGBT Foundation wrote a letter to the council. My income support was increased, I was deemed a good citizen that gave back to the community for my HIV work and, I got a flat close to their offices in Manchester City Centre.

My editor at the time went on a dementia course and tried to find ways to help me cope with my new diagnoses. My workplace became my family. I live in the UK alone, with no family, and the services they offered me were counselling to help me until the mental health team accepted me. I received drug and alcohol support and even given the chance to write again with another magazine in Canada for nearly five years. LGBT Foundation took me in and adopted me as one of their own.

Every day for months they would message me to make sure I wasn’t alone, I would walk into the office scared or frightened and they would find something for me to do. I volunteered many of times with Village Angels, which slowly gave me a purpose and taught me how to interact with people again. I was a confident person once, but after my breakdown and abuse, I was a shadow of my former self.

Many times, I tried to end my own life, but they were always there to remind me that one day I would be all right and that I still had a purpose in life.

I always say that being gay is one of the loneliest things on the planet, and for many years, that’s how I felt. Being one of the youngest people in the UK with my type of dementia also had an effect on me that made living with HIV easier.

Not having memory of your family or loved ones, having to adapt and take time to do basic things was difficult. My family saw and reminded me I had a purpose, so much so, that I helped develop an LGBT Dementia Network.

I was always good at using my personal problems to help others, and they assisted me with re-educating myself on how to address my issues and give me the focus I needed to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I started doing work with Alzheimer’s Society, where I featured in a pilot project called ‘Bring Dementia Out’, [which came about from] my concerns around the lack of support for members of the LGBT community [from] health workers.

Over time, LGBT Foundation helped me with my public speaking, to where I am now a guest lecturer at many universities around the country. I lecture on substance abuse, dementia and HIV. Last year I won the Positive Role Model LGBT award at the National Diversity Awards.

I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for LGBT Foundation. They have been and will always be the reason why I am alive. I was reminded I had a purpose, where I learned to use my pain to help others, so they wouldn’t be alone.

I’m confident in knowing that I’m not alone, I’m doing a job that I only dreamt of, I get to speak to hundreds of people around the country about my life and one of my biggest dreams is to leave a legacy behind.

We now have Bring Dementia Out as a funded project to support LGBT people affected by dementia. No matter what happens to me, I know I have made an impact and left something behind so others don’t have to hurt like I have, because of the extra care from LGBT Foundation I was able to do that.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t be ashamed to admit that. Seek as much help as you can, because in these strange times we must. With all the isolation going on, we over think more, issues that were not issues have become a problem and loneliness and isolation is the new norm. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a light at the end of your tunnel.

These times ask us to be kinder to ourselves, because taking care of yourself isn’t easy. If you start now, you’ll soon see how much easier it becomes…

For advice and support, call the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, or click here for more information.