Breaking the stigma around STIs and Mental health
The strong correlation between STI diagnosis and mental health concerns amplifies the importance of understanding and destigmatizing both sexual health and mental illnesses. Although there are a multitude of sexually transmitted diseases but almost all of them carry a degree of stigma and shame.
How are they related?
- The relationship between mental illness and STIs exists due to complex and varied interactions between sexual partners, as well as with healthcare professionals due to fear of judgement.
- Women with STIs experience anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, anger and feelings of contamination and embarrassment.
- Such psychological effects are potentially more impactful than the medical effects in the long run. Therefore, clear communication between the healthcare professional and patient is imperative to increase timely intervention.
- Sexual health diagnosis can also lead women to feel worried, anxious, or even hopeless. Managing one’s physical and mental health is extremely important after receiving an STI diagnosis.
Mental health risks and concerns
A common example of anxiety in individuals diagnosed with STIs is when their STI tests are negative but they still continue to feel uneasy. They may keep looking for more information and get tested multiple times without realising the need to focus on seeking help for their emotional health. Anxiety can show up in many ways –
- Physical symptoms: rapid heart rate, headaches, chills, nausea, fatigue
- Thoughts: confusion, uncertainty, poor concentration, poor memory, intrusive thoughts
- Emotions: fear, guilt, panic, anxiety, irritability, depression, agitation,
- Behaviour: withdrawal, problems sleeping, changes in social activity, appetite or alcohol/drug use, difficulty working
Being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection can be an emotionally traumatic event that could lead to the development of depression. One may be struggling with depression if one has overwhelming sadness, loss of interest in activities, and/or feelings of hopelessness for the future. Talking to a mental health professional in such cases can be extremely helpful in coping with the difficult emotional experience related to STIs.
What can you do?
- Get Treated – If you contract an STI then – do not wait. Get treated as soon as possible. Timely diagnosis of the disease itself goes a long way in preventing major mental health concerns later.
- Increase your awareness – Educate yourself about the disease. This is an important step towards destigmatizing the situation and will prove to be beneficial for how you feel about the diagnosis. Learn more about the ways to address the STD and how can one prevent them in future. Doing so not only broadens your understanding but also take away much of the attached guilt and embarrassment.
- Talk about it – Seek support and talk about it to people who are close to you. Support groups can also play a pivotal role in helping you shed some burden. Having a supportive environment before getting tested and during the diagnosis of a STD can be a huge contributing factor in your psychological well-being.
- Medical Intervention – It’s important to have a conversation regarding your mental health with a medical practitioner. They can direct you to appropriate avenues depending on the severity of your symptoms. Some forms of therapy can be extremely effective as the mental health professional guides you through coping with the negative feelings attached to your STI diagnosis.