We’ve all heard of – and let’s be honest, most of us have experienced – “gaslighting”: the experience of having someone question your reality. Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t just pop culture fodder. Research has shown that it’s commonplace for women seeking medical care.
Read on for tips on how to identify medical gaslighting and how to advocate for yourself when no one else will. Let’s get to it!
What is medical gaslighting, exactly?
Medical gaslighting is the experience of symptoms being inappropriately dismissed as minor or primarily psychological by medical providers. Women – especially women of color – experience this at a disproportionately higher rate in the traditional health care system, often leaving us with a feeling of helplessness and in some cases, less likely to seek care in the future.
Partly to blame is the fact that when it comes to understanding women’s bodies, unique health conditions, and treatments, scientists are still playing catch up. In fact, it wasn’t until 1993 that the National Institute of Health was required to include women and minorities in their research. These knowledge gaps create major ripple effects, with some ignoring our pleas for help, sending us home untreated and feeling unseen.
So, you’ve experienced medical gaslighting. What now?
For starters, consider seeking a second opinion. Friends and family are a wellspring of knowledge about medical providers they’ve had positive, or negative, interactions with. Before booking your appointment, give the provider’s office a call and ask about their new patient process. Pro Tip: It’s a good sign when someone answers the line vs. an automated message.
If that’s not an option or your concerns remain unheard, there are steps you can take to demand better care:
Take back your power. Emphasize that you are the expert in your body and your experience, period. Remind your physician that you’re seeking their medical guidance to address an issue that’s ailing you, and you’ve come to them for answers.
Take action. Come prepared with questions to ask your provider and press on until you get an answer. While we’d love to say we came up with all these questions on our own, the TODAY Show beat us to the punch on a few. Here are six questions to have in your backpocket:
I know this is different for me and I want to find out what the cause of it is. I really need your help in finding out what’s going on. What tests could we run to investigate this further?
Can you think of some additional things that we could consider that would be causing these symptoms for me?
I’d like us to keep looking because this is impacting my quality of life and it could be impacting my quantity as well. Should I see a specialist or other provider? Even if the doctor doesn’t agree, it's probably worth the time and expense to seek another opinion.
If you’re prescribed a medication, ask if it was tested in men and women. If a doctor recommends a treatment, ask what’s known about how it works in men and women and whether there might be differences.
Is there anything I can change in my day-to-day that may improve these symptoms while we find the cause? Could something in my current treatment plan be the cause? Pro Tips:
Come prepared with a list of: prescriptions, supplements, and vitamins you take, and how often; allergies (food or otherwise); and, your dietary regimen and sensitivities.
Be mindful of past health events, as these could be significant when assessing your symptoms and remedies.
Why is this course of action best for me and what does it seek to accomplish? Take additional time to process the recommended course of action and to come back with additional questions, if needed.
Medical gaslighting is unacceptable, full stop. Remember that you are not alone, you know your body better than anyone, and that fighting for the care that you’ve always deserved is your right.
Here at Favor, we will continue to empower you with the knowledge to navigate the current health system and avoid being denied access to deserved care.
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