How to be a support person
Supporting a person seeking sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH)
It doesn’t matter if you’re a partner, friend, family member, work colleague or acquaintance – the following information is for anyone who wants to support someone seeking sexual and reproductive healthcare services.
What is sexual and reproductive healthcare?
Sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) is to do with the sexual and reproductive parts of our bodies – from our genitals to our reproductive organs (uteruses, testicles, ovaries, and more); and including how our brain works when it comes to sex, sexuality, sexual assault and intimacy.
It involves holistic assessment, treatment and management of issues related to sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing, across the lifespan, by a multidisciplinary team.
Why do people need sexual and reproductive healthcare?
There are many reasons why someone may seek SRH. These include wanting contraception, STI testing, education about safe sexual activity or sexual dysfunction, specialist hormone treatment, pregnancy care, an abortion or vasectomy, or assisted reproductive treatment such as IVF.
SRH is often stigmatised. This can make it feel shameful to seek help or, easy to believe something is wrong with you because you are using a sexual or reproductive health service. Unfortunately, this stigma means healthcare services like abortion care, are not discussed in some families and communities.
Barriers to accessing safe and effective SRH include distance, cost, cultural beliefs, family violence, reproductive coercion and abuse, or even a person’s age in certain situations.
I want to help. What can I do?
To support someone using abortion care and other SRH services, it is vital to start from the position that access to any form of healthcare is a human right. Additionally, that an individual has the right to make choices about their own body.
You may need to put aside some of your personal beliefs, in order to most effectively support someone else.
If someone wants to share what’s going on for them, they’ll let you know. If you are worried about someone, tell them. It’s ok to reach out in a kind and respectful way. However, don’t expect the person to feel comfortable straightaway and tell you what’s going on. It may be unsafe for that person to disclose some things to you, and it may create even more distress if you persist in asking.
Healthy emotional support is providing the care that someone wants, in the way they want it, when they want it. It is making sure that we’re putting the other person first, instead of our need to care for them in the way we think is best.
If a person is unable to tell you directly, try not to take it personally. Encourage them to talk to a mutually trusted person, someone who has permission to share certain details with you if appropriate. Perhaps the person, who needs support, could message you or email you if that makes it easier for them.
Other ways of being supportive are: not providing solutions based on what you would do in the same situation, checking in regularly, having non-judgemental conversations, and being assertive when someone is clearly not coping. With the person’s permission, you could offer to be an advocate if healthcare is hard to access, or you could offer practical assistance to enable the person rest and recover after a procedure.
In some situations, supporting someone can come at a cost to your own wellbeing.
What is self-care?
Self-care is a personal responsibility. Self-care involves recognising when you are ‘burning out’, and taking action to prevent this continuing. These activities can be behavioural, emotional, mental, social or of a sensory nature. For example, reaching out to the people who support you; doing some regular stretching, eating well, spending time alone, or listening to a favourite album. Setting boundaries is also important. You may have had similar experiences to the person you’re trying to care for, and your wellbeing matters.
The aim of conscious, regular self-care is to help maintain perspective and feel more physically and mentally rested.
Please consider using our Pro-Choice counselling service. Your attendance is confidential and we manage your health information in line with organisational and legislative privacy requirements.