By Frank Spinelli, M D

Originally published on Advocate.com October 08 2009 9:00 AM ET

Last year I diagnosed my youngest patient with HIV. He was 23 years old. Ironically, he worked as an HIV health coordinator. His story is simple: he met the man of his dreams, fell in love and began a monogamous relationship. After six months of dating they stopped using condoms. One day, while he was in his boyfriend’s apartment showering, he discovered several bottles of antiretrovirals in the medicine cabinet. That day he came to see me. After performing a rapid HIV test, we discovered that he was HIV positive. His partner had neglected to tell him about his status. Once the initial shock wore off, we had a long discussion and eventually decided that he would benefit from attending a support group with other men his own age. I’ve always felt support groups add a valuable dimension to patient’s care. Listening and speaking to other individuals can be more helpful in certain situations than a visit to the doctor. Through this experience, I learned that support networks are as varied as the gay men who attend them. If you’re thinking about joining one, get some advice from the amazing men and women who organize them at The Center and Callen Lorde. HIV is not just a medical condition Learning to cope with being positive is as important as taking your meds. I thoroughly support these networks and advocate them especially for those who are newly diagnosed.