Illnesses and diseases are, by their very nature, not very nice things. They cause pain and stop people from achieving their full potential. They’re also quite scary, especially when you throw in the fact that most of the time we don’t actually know much about them. Nothing sparks more panic than an illness that’s contagious. Think about the images of men and women in protective white suits and restrictions on travel when another mass panic grabs the world.
On a more local level, we’ve probably all become a little bit paranoid in the winter months as we sit in lecture theatres and notice that everyone around us seems to be coughing. Those people seem ill and we’re healthy. It’s perfectly sensible that we don’t want to get sick. That being said, we don’t regularly single these people out or pretend that no one in the class is ever sick. This is, however, the case for people with sexually transmitted infections.
In Britain especially, sex is something of a taboo subject. It’s a subject matter that’s often characterised as shallow and seedy. A thing that should only be talked about with close friends and otherwise never discussed. Make it about STIs and people stop the discussion all together. Silence though, is one of the worst things that can happen. Not talking about something is a sure way to make a scary thing gain momentum. In the darkness, it grows and grows and grows. Ideas about how people get it move from fact to fiction. Suddenly, it’s only a certain type of people that get the disease.
The Terrence Higgins Trust knows this only too well. They’re a charity that campaigns on various issues regarding the prevention of HIV and promoting safer sex. Founded after the death of Terry Higgins, one of the first men who died from AIDS in the UK, it sought to humanise the issue at a time where the British press were labelling it as a gay disease. While thirty years on people in Britain very rarely die from AIDS, the stigma around gaining HIV is nonetheless still very much prevalent in our society.
Think about it. Often, we’ll hear people discussing if someone is clean. They never talk about whether they’re not, but it follows that if the person isn’t then they’re dirty. It creates an idea that people with HIV are less worthy than people without it. Quickly, this leads to no one wanting to identify as having HIV for fear that they’ll be alienated from their peers. The stigma of any STI and especially HIV is perhaps the most dangerous element now because it hides the light and stops people from seeking out the help and support that they need.
It’s important to get checked regularly and fortunately testing is available in a multitude of ways. Sandyford is the sexual health clinic and whilst it might appear scary, it really isn’t. However, if you’re still not entirely comfortable going there then you can always speak to your GP and have your bloods taken in your local practice.
We’re all hoping that every test we ever take will come back as negative, but don’t fear the results. Even if you find that you’ve tested positive for HIV, it’s not the end and you will not be left alone. Not only does the NHS have excellent support systems in place, but wonderful charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust will be there to support you.
[Darren Hardie – @DarrenHardie]
Image: Terrence Higgins Trust