HIV home tests are hitting the market anyday now which as a psychiatrist, concerns me. Since HIV home test are not available until now, people had to go to a clinic or doctor’s office to request testing which could be done anounymously. However they were always given information, counseling and resources about HIV both before the test and after any positive results. HIV home test means someone could potentially face devestating news with absolutely no support from anyone. Many people have limited information about the disease in general or the implications. While anyone buying a over-the-counter HIV home test likely understands that it is an STD and a concerning disease, they may not understand the potential treatment options, the symptoms they may experience and the overall course of disease.
HIV home test results may also induce severe stress and I fear that if someone already has poor coping skills or is otherwise depressed, the HIV home test positive result could push someone to suicide or dangerous behavior such as spreading the disease as a form of anger toward others. It is difficult enough to seek out help but in general people are too ashamed to seek help for HIV counseling and medical treatmentn which means after their HIV home test comes back positive, they are likely to delay treatment and mental health treatment for much too long which puts them at risk for worsening course of illness and extreme stress, depression and emotional problems.
Prior to the HIV home test, a clinic would help patient’s get set-up with a doctor, counseling and support groups. This was key in my view. Some compare HIV home test to pregnancy home tests which is a valid point. However the stigma with pregnancy is not nearly as severe and aside from younger teen’s being ashamed to tell their parents, they usually are not ashamed to seek medical help. Pregnant women also cannot infect and potentially endanger other people which uneducated HIV patients can potentially do.
So is the HIV home test a good idea? I do not think it is and I worry without the proper funding for education and resources to go along with the HIV home test, we are facing many people in for a shock of their lifetime without any adequate support system in place-I worry about suicide as a psychiatrist and in this day and age, where HIV is very manageable, suicide due to poor education about the disease is an absolute shame. Some say it will increase the likelihood more people will get tested but on the flip side, it will deter many from getting treated by being able to bypass proper medical clinics.
Michael Yasinski M.D