If a friend has been diagnosed with an STI, they’ll need your support more than ever. An STI, unlike other infections, can bring with it a whole range of emotional issues that your loved one will be struggling to work through. You can help them with this. Here’s how:
Understand that an STI Can Be Difficult to Talk About
There’s a huge stigma associated with STIs. This is largely down to a host of common misconceptions that continue to pervade. As a result, those who have received a diagnosis are often extremely reluctant to talk to friends or family about what they are going through. If someone has reached out to you about their STI diagnosis, accept that talking about it is likely to be difficult for them. Take things slowly, don’t push them and reassure them that you’ll be there whenever they’re ready to talk again.
It’s unlikely that you know of every STI out there. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend questions about their diagnosis or, if they’re not comfortable answering questions, do some research online. Knowing the symptoms, the prognosis and recommended treatments will stand you in good stead for sympathising and understanding what your friend is going through.
Understand the Wider Issues
An STI is likely to make a person worried about their long term health. But there are wider emotional ramifications too. If the person was in a relationship, has it become apparent that their partner was unfaithful? This is likely to raise many unhappy and troublesome feelings for your friend. An STI may also have changed how they feel about sex in general and may have prompted negative feelings about their own bodies. Some STIs can affect a person’s fertility. Even if your friend hasn’t ever contemplated the idea of having children up to now, this is another aspect of STI diagnosis that they may be worrying about.
Respect Their Privacy
If a friend has confided in you about their STI diagnosis, it’s incredibly important to respect their privacy and keep the information to yourself. Because there are so many misconceptions about STIs, it’s likely that your friend will only want to discuss the matter with those he or she trusts completely, at least until they’ve come to terms with the diagnosis. Tell your friend that what he or she tells you will go no further and stay true to your word.
Providing a kind and non-judgmental ear is the best way to help someone cope with an STI diagnosis. Dealing with an STI can be incredibly lonely and isolating. Just being able to talk through their feelings can be a huge relief to your friend. Avoid using labels, be sympathetic and don’t feel like you need to offer any solutions. You’d be surprised at how much difference just listening can make.
Point Them Towards Support and Resources
You’re not a professional and whilst your help and support will be invaluable to your friend, it may be useful to point them towards additional support and resources too. There are plenty of options out there. If your friend is unsure that they have an STI but feels unable to go to their GP, you can get tests from organisations like the raTrust. You can also use the NHS website to search for sexual health information and support close to where you live.
An STI diagnosis can be incredibly painful and difficult to deal with. Being there to support your friend through this challenging time can make all the difference to their emotional health.