Why We Actually Owe Charlie Sheen a Thank You

I don't know Charlie Sheen. And he has no clue who I am. I really wouldn't even want to meet him as, it's just a hunch, but I'm fairly certain we run in different types of crowds and share very few of the same values and interests. I can only think of a handful of pop culture individuals who have repulsed me on as many different levels as he has.

But this isn't an article to bash him. It's to thank him.

Regardless of his intentions for announcing his HIV status, he revealed that status nonetheless. He could have elected to remain silent. By his own admission, the only reason he came forward was to put a stop to the blackmail from individuals threatening to expose him. But why he made the decision to release his diagnosis of HIV is not even relevant. What is important is the fact that his disclosing the information got people once again talking -- or at least thinking -- about HIV.

Not that America had forgotten about HIV -- we just hadn't remembered it like we used to. And there's a difference.

In the early nineties, when headlines everywhere screamed about the dangers of the virus and sent a wave of panic through the world, it was a terrifying jolt of information. It was a relatively new disease and people were scared. All the panic, ironically, created a positive outcome as it allowed enormous amounts of information to disperse via the media. The constant barrage of science-related facts, data and conversation were all extremely helpful in ensuring the public was aware and informed. Protecting oneself became a high priority. It became a regularly-discussed health issue, which is particularly important for such a potentially harmful disease.

Awareness is powerful. It affects one's actions, choices and decisions, big and small. For many years the news stories, articles and individuals such as Magic Johnson and Greg Louganis kept it alive and constant in the public's consciousness. Our awareness level was at a high point and the subject of HIV and AIDS was commonplace in the news media. For a few years, it was rare to pick up a newspaper or magazine (pre-Internet) and not read some reference to the disease.

Over time, the panic seemed to cease. With the gradual good news of so much medical advancement and technology helping make HIV not necessarily the near-certain death sentence it was when we all first heard of it, the conversation slowed. So, like most big news stories, what goes up must eventually come down. No longer was HIV at the top of the list of medical stories being covered. This is not to say there was no longer validity to the seriousness of the disease. Nothing could be further from that suggestion. There was just less discussion about it in Middle America. A lot less. And so the awareness decreased, especially with the next generation.

The sobering reality of HIV still exists. Unfortunately, an entirely new generation of young adults is maturing in their own world -- one in which there is knowledge about HIV, but no emphasis on it. Both my teenage daughters have said they learned about HIV in their high school health class, but that was the extent of it. It isn't a subject that is discussed amongst friends nor do they see it mentioned in the news. And, where they would most likely see their "news" updates, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, it's not an ongoing conversation to say the least. And since the alarmists have had two decades to soak it in, as has everyone else, the subject is probably not often discussed at the dinner table as it was when HIV first came into the public's awareness. It is too important a disease to be fading from the public eye. I know it goes without saying, but sadly, most teens are probably much more informed about where the Kardashians went to dinner than they are about the transmission facts of HIV.

Because HIV is a disease that is transmitted between individuals, every person needs to know how that transmission takes place. Therefore, until a cure is found, it should continue to be taken very seriously as a medical crisis situation.

But intentionally or not, Charlie Sheen -- even for a few days -- got the conversation started again. If it even got a few individuals to be reminded that it is still relevant and part of our reality, he did a good thing.