Medical gaslighting is a very common occurrence and you are likely to have experienced this more than once in the past.
Feeling like you've been dismissed by your medical team and that your symptoms are not 'as bad' or even real!
This is because medical care is yet to catch up with the research.
In this episode, I share with you 8 forms of gaslighting and simple steps that you can implement to be your own best advocate!
Welcome back to the beauty in balance podcast.
I’m happy to have you here again today as I discuss a bit of a controversial topic. But I really believe that it is important to challenge the status quo so that we can change the medical care that women get around the world.
My own story is that for about 5 years, I’ve struggled with some unexplained symptoms and several visits to my gp didn’t bring me any closer to any answers or solutions.
The appointments were scheduled for 15 minutes and I remember always feeling rushed. So there was no time to really talk through all of my symptoms, but apart from that, I almost always left those appointments feeling dismissed.
It was a looong journey towards wellness for me and I eventually found the answers and solutions. But most other women are not that fortunate. I had the ability and knowledge to start looking into this for myself and not just trusting my gp.
But most women out there don’t feel that they can do this or even have an idea where to go next.
I believe that a lot of change needs to happen in healthcare systems around the world.
Women feel ignored and it often takes years to be diagnosed. For years not getting the correct diagnosis and help that they need and in the process, their health deteriorates to the point where they have a full blown chronic disease such as auto-immune disease.
And here is my perspective on the current situation. Doctors don’t let women down because they are bad people, but because their training is lacking.
And this is because research is lacking in a major way when it comes to women's health. In fact, even the FDA in the 1980s issued a recommendation to exclude women of childbearing age from all medical research because it was just too complicated to take all of the variability into consideration. Too many factors to consider and therefore more work and more complicated research. It’s lazy research and lazy medicine. Researchers were not willing to put in that extra work.
This has changed in recent years, but medical training and practice still needs to catch up with the research.
We know that there is an estimated lag of about 17 years between research and that research making it into practice. So we are still experiencing this massive gap in medical care for women even today.
This means that almost all of our medical practices and care are based on research on men.
The less doctors know and understand about women’s bodies, the more they will dismiss our complaints as being in our heads or us being hysterical. I often hear women going to their doctors with menstrual cramps, being told that it’s normal to have that kind of cramps during a period and then years later getting diagnosed with endo.
And the problem is that I find doctors think it is unnecessary to do testing. Or in New Zealand at least, they are so restricted by funding, that they are often restricted in the kind of testing that they can offer, if any at all.
So women end up being denied the diagnostics that they need to be able to get to the bottom of whatever it is they are facing.
Or in some cases, you might get some testing done, but when results are only off slightly, your profile will not align with any specific diagnosis. And you’d come back a few years later, when the problem has been left untreated and therefore deteriorated to the point where you now actually DO fit a diagnosis. We know that it actually takes a few years for something like auto-immune disease to develop into a full blown disease that can be diagnosed.. And often at this stage, it’s too late to do anything preventative. You’re stuck with a chronic diagnosis.
The other challenge with women’s health, is that often, we present with symptoms that can’t be confirmed with testing or imaging, like pain or fatigue, or brain fog or irritability. And so those symptoms get ignored, or are attributed to anxiety, or stress or exhaustion, often without any further testing done. So basically, we are dismissed or we get sent out the door with a script for hormonal birth control or anti-anxiety meds.
And I think to further contribute to this problem, women are telling women that these things are normal. This is just how women feel, especially after having babies.
So I believe we need a complete medical system overhaul, but also, we need to change the culture out there and the beliefs that we as women have about women’s health.
And unfortunately, we are labelled as not having any medical knowledge so we have nothing to stand on when we go to the doctors office, in order to get the care that we deserve and need.
But I wanna let you know today that you are not alone. You are most certainly not the only woman that feels stuck, frustrated and ignored. I can’t tell you how many times I hear these exact same stories. You’ve done nothing wrong, it’s not your fault, it’s the system that is letting us as women down by wanting to slap bandaids on our complaints so to speak, just to get rid of us.
Your body has a very unique and amazing capability to heal! And all you need is to learn to trust your instincts, those instincts that are being shut down by your healthcare team, and understand the language that your body is speaking, so that you can understand what it is that you need. You need to find the reason behind the symptoms and find out what is really going on underneath the surface.
And like I said, the research on women’s health is so new that it’s not being taught in medical schools yet and the medical system doesn't operate within that framework yet.
It’s like they’re ignoring the fact that women are 3 times more likely to develop auto-immune condition, 3 times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, 4 times more likely to develop chronic fatigue syndrome and these stats are seen worldwide
It starts as early as puberty, where we tend to dismiss the pain of endo which is when endo starts to develop and these girls end up on hormonal birth control and then in their 20s and 30s, when it gets really bad, they finally get diagnosed.
So I wanted to touch on the subject of medical gaslighting today. I’ve certainly been a victim of this and I’m confident that you’ve been too.
The term is defined as when a medical professional dismisses a person’s health concerns as being the product of their imagination. And it makes you doubt your own judgement. So in other words, your symptoms are blamed on psychological factors.
It happens when a doctor tries to convince you that your symptoms are caused by something else or that you’re imagining them altogether.
And I’ll give you 8 ways that women are being medically gaslighted at the moment, across the world.
Firstly, it’s when doctors or medical professionals minimise or dismiss debilitating or serious symptoms. Something like “your pain can’t be that bad” or “menstrual cramps are supposed to be painful”
The second way is when symptoms get blamed on mental illness - it’s all in your head. So doctors prescribe antidepressants for women that complain of fatigue, because they believe that it is psychosomatic.
Number 3, is when doctors assume your diagnosis based on your sex, race, identity, ethnicity, or weight. Like I’m hearing so often that doctors recommend that women should eat less, lose weight and exercise more and their symptoms will disappear. So they’re putting the problem back on the person, for example saying their weight is the problem and we know that often, it is hormones at play here and has nothing to do with the energy in energy out equation.
Number 4 is when doctors refuse to order important tests or imaging work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recommended full blood panels for my clients, only to hear that their doctor thought that it was unnecessary and would not order the tests. This infuriates me, because what they are indirectly saying is that there is nothing to be tested, the problem is in your head.
Number 5 is when healthcare practitioners refuse to discuss a health issue with a patient and blame the patient for trying to self-diagnose. So basically, when you mention that you’ve done some of your own research to try and find answers, you end up in a power struggle with your doctor because often, and I’m not saying all of them, but often they believe that they have all the answers because they have the medical training. They dismiss the fact that we live inside of our own bodies and we understand our bodies best.
Number 6, is when your symptoms are written off and you are prescribed a quick pill solution, such as birth control or anti-anxiety meds. So basically dismissing you and giving you a prescription so they can get rid of you.
Number 7 is when they actually do some basic testing, only to tell you that everything is normal and there is nothing wrong with you. There is no reason for you to experience those symptoms and therefore they surely don’t exist.
And lastly, dismissing your symptoms as a result of stress, anxiety, lack of sleep or some other mental or emotional issue.
So that is what medical gaslighting looks like and the impact of it is huge. It includes delays in diagnosis of up to 7 years, and as a result, delays in treatment and therefore a downward spiral of the overall health of the patient.
There is a huge psychological element, in that it is traumatic when you are being told that your pain is mental. You end up feeling completely hopeless. And being dismissed will also lead to a person likely not seeking help in future for similar or even different health issues.
And for this reason, I believe that it is important for us to advocate for ourselves.
And the unfortunate reality is that it is not something that comes easy for most people and therefore it is not being done. But I wana provide you with a few strategies today on how you can advocate for yourself:
Firstly, it might be really helpful to take somebody with you to your appointments. Just having an extra set of ears can sometimes be really helpful to get your point across. And also, I believe that healthcare providers can behave differently when a support person is present.
Secondly, keep detailed records of your symptoms. This can include times and duration of your symptoms, photographs and even videos. The more information that you can have available for your doctor, the easier their job will be to come to a conclusion
Thirdly, if you are going for a second opinion or even to see another healthcare provider, take previous medical reports and testing results with you. This can help them to add detail to your own reporting.
Then I believe that it can be helpful for you to take notes during your consultation. Not only will your healthcare provider be more careful about what they say, but you won’t have to depend on your memory for all the details when you go for a second opinion or even when you get home to discuss the outcome with your support people. I think it is important to do this, because YOU are the CEO of your health and I believe that our healthcare system needs to be held more accountable.
And then lastly, self-diagnosis is definitely not helpful when you go to see your gp, but I do recommend that you do your research and maybe consider some other practitioners such as functional health practitioners or specialists.
And use tools that you have at your disposal to educate yourself, such as this podcast, so you can understand what is normal and what is not. This will also give you confidence to stand your ground but also to get clarity around your symptoms.
I wanna just clarify here that I’m not anti-doctors or medication. I think it has its place and can be incredible when we need it.
But we live in a society where we’ve given the responsibility of our health over to a broken healthcare system and we don’t take the time and effort to educate ourselves and find the answers.
So I hope this podcast is helping you to do exactly that!
If you wanna learn to understand the inner workings of your hormones and your body, I wanna invite you to join me inside the Hormone Health Academy, which I believe is one of the most comprehensive programs currently available to help you identify the root cause of your health issues, but also to take control of that and heal your hormones and your body.
If you haven’t listened to episode 27 yet, where one of my clients shares her incredible health journey, I want to invite you to do that. It might help you to decide whether the Hormone Health Academy is the right program for you.
If you would like to read more about the 9 week program, head over to vandghie.com/hha or find the link in the show notes, where you can read all about the program. I would absolutely love to welcome you inside.
Ok my friend, if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please share it with a friend, subscribe to my podcast and leave a review. I would be so grateful!
Until next week