How do you help people get tested for STIs when human emotion says, "I'm afraid?"
Updated: Jun 14
We're writing this during STD Awareness Week. And as the Centers for Disease Control website states, "STD Awareness Week provides an opportunity to raise awareness about STDs and how they impact our lives; reduce STD-related stigma, fear, and discrimination; and ensure people have the tools and knowledge to prevent, test for, and treat STDs."
That's a perfect, incredible mission. But how do we break through people's very understandable fear regarding being tested? Especially when, according to this study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, STI testing rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea as of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic decreased by 59% in females and 63% in males.
So, we have a natural fear of testing compounded by a pandemic. How do we fight back and help convince people to get the testing that could save lives?
At Simple HealthKit, we say, "Everyone deserves better health. It's that simple." And if we're going to provide better health to "everyone" and make getting that health "simple," we need to be more understanding and human in the way we communicate about this type of testing.
We can start by admitting that people don't like us very much. Scrubs, lab coats, needles. The is that idea you might be told you have a "disease." No thanks. We put off these things. Even when the idea involves simply going to the Doctor for a routine checkup, we humans find something better to do.
Have a look at this study, the introduction of which cites a survey that found a third of people avoid seeking medical care, even when a major health problem or symptoms are present.
Fear of bad news keeps us away. Couple that with the fear of judgment that accompanies STI testing, and we can easily see the problem.
To us, the solution, as we started talking about above, is more human communication. What's that mean? For starters, it means removing the clinical from our language. Yes, we're highly trained, incredibly passionate people. But to the average person, we can be seen as cold, technical, and, well, scary (sorry).
For instance, while citing STI statistics seems like a good idea, the numbers are designed to show how common these infections are and, from a logical perspective, convince people they're not at all alone — it's not all that helpful. Because of that, everyone-knows-it human emotion, fear. And those stats, especially the way they're treated in those clinical-looking infographics, look frightening.
Let's start by naming the elephant in the room. It seems so basic, but say something like this in your communications:
"It's perfectly normal to be afraid of STI testing. No one's not afraid. And if you keep that in mind long enough to get tested, you'll either get the good news that you don't have an STI or that whatever you do have can be treated or even cured. And no one but you has to know."
The idea of shame that comes with this territory is extremely similar to the feelings associated with any kind of substance abuse. And what are the two things just about anyone in that space says? You're not alone. It's not your fault.
So let's take a page out of that book. And let's remember, in a battle of logic versus emotion, emotion wins just about every single time.
Let's stop saying "stigma." It's a weird word that, in our opinion, keeps people at arm's length. And again, yes, it's a clinical-sounding word.
Another problem with the word is that it's not personal. It's just this thing that isn't attributed to certain people. Say something like this:
You might be worried about what other people think. That's perfectly normal, too — we tend to care about what other people think, whether it's something "good" about us or something "bad." But what's going on here is that some people just don't get it. Their brains are stuck thinking just getting tested for an STI means there's something wrong with you. We'll say the same thing all the memes out there say, 'Forget the haters.' Tell them to act like adults, like you are.
What if you heard a medical practitioner talking like this? First, you might be surprised. Then, maybe you'd start to lean in a bit. Trust that person, perhaps? Then maybe start to trust yourself? This kind of language says, without ever using the words, that we see you as a person, understand your worries, care about you, and most of all, want your life to be great.
Give it a try.
You've heard that advice to a nervous public speaker: "Imagine everyone in their underwear." Apply that to this.
Instead of those dry statistics that illustrate the prevalence of STIs, try changing the frame of reference to something a little more lighthearted and even funny.
Ask your prospective patients to imagine the people they see on the street having dealt with an STI. "See that put-together woman? Imagine she has chlamydia." "That guy holding the baby over there has herpes. He also got treatment." "And that couple laughing with each other — what if they're living full lives, even though they have HIV."
It's just different and humanizing enough to break through all that fear.
Those are just a few ideas. Want to brainstorm some more ways to help get people tested? Drop us a note — at Simple HealthKit, we're doing everything we can to support clinics, colleges, and universities and all the people they serve to get over, under, and through the barriers to STI testing, treatment, and cure, by offering free testing services, in-home and in-clinic testing options, Rapid results and the accuracy that comes with PCR technology.
We even built our lab and patented technology to make it easier, faster, and less expensive.
But, even if you don't need all that, we'd be happy to talk.
It's that Simple.