In a world where we trust medical professionals with our well-being, it can be extremely upsetting when our concerns are brushed aside or ignored. This is known as medical gaslighting, and not only causes delays in diagnosis and treatment but also disproportionately affects women and people of color. In a recent survey, shocking statistics emerged, with a staggering 70% of Black women reporting that their doctors did not listen to our concerns, and 58% experiencing dismissive attitudes towards our symptoms. In this blog, we delve into the frequency and impact of medical gaslighting on our community and provide practical strategies for advocating for ourselves in healthcare.
Medical gaslighting can affect anyone, but its impact is particularly pronounced on women and people of color. I'm sure you like me have had those moments of knowing you were receiving subpar healthcare, even having doctors label you as "uncooperative" or "non-compliant" merely for bringing up concerns (to read more about these studies highlighting this atrocity, visit https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01423). Studies reveal that women face longer diagnostic delays and are more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental health issues when our symptoms indicate other conditions, such as heart disease. Additionally, despite having more severe illnesses, women receive fewer ICU admissions than men. This troubling trend is further exacerbated among Black women, with even higher rates of doctors dismissing our concerns.
Multiple factors contribute to medical gaslighting, ranging from the historical exclusion of our gender from scientific research and a limited understanding of women's health. And for those from the Black community readint this article, you're not pulling the race card if you've believed It is further impacted by institutional racism, gender biases, and cultural differences - you're 100% correct. To combat medical gaslighting effectively, healthcare providers must demonstrate an appreciation for cultural variations and strive to understand symptoms beyond their cultural frame of reference.
In order to defend ourselves against medical gaslighting's deadly impact, we must be able to recognize the warning signs. These signs include downplaying symptoms, interrupting you, and dismissing your concerns. Another red flag is attributing your symptoms to mental illness without conducting appropriate investigations or providing mental health follow-up care. The core element of medical gaslighting is invalidating your concerns as a patient, making you feel like your symptoms are not genuine or significant enough to get a closer look.
If you find that your doctor isn't truly listening to you, remember that you have the power to advocate for yourself. Here are five empowering strategies to take control of your healthcare:
Ask questions: Be proactive in asking questions about your diagnosis, treatment options, and potential side effects. This forces the doctor to slow down, explain their reasoning, and shows their willingness to engage with you.
(I know this one is hard but…)Track your symptoms: Keeping a detailed record of your symptoms, such as changes in your menstrual cycle or skin appearance, provides tangible evidence to support your concerns and captures the attention of healthcare providers.
Attend annual checkups: Regular preventive care appointments establish your baseline health and enable early detection of any abnormalities. During these visits, actively participate in discussions about your health, ensuring your voice is heard.
Come prepared: Before appointments, make a list of topics or questions you wish to discuss. A Black female nurse just said this to me last night: ALWAYS bring along a supportive friend or family member who can offer emotional support, ask questions, or take notes. Patient advocates can also be invaluable in navigating appointments, billing, and insurance, so don't hesitate to inquire about their availability.
Trust your instincts and speak up: Listen to your intuition and communicate your concerns directly to your healthcare provider. If necessary, request a referral to a specialist or seek a second opinion. Should your provider consistently fail to take your concerns seriously, reach out to organizations like Black Women 4 Healthy Living for guidance and support in finding another provider.
For my Black sisters reading this article, here's a cultural resource: If all of these fail and you're not sure what to do next, reach out to Black Women 4 Healthy Living and get help with advocacy strategies:https://bw4hl.org/contact-us/. That's one of the things they are passionate and effective with - helping us learn how to get results with our healthcare instead of giving up.
Medical gaslighting can be a deeply distressing experience that erodes trust in medical professionals, and make the trust we already struggle to give anyone outside of our safe circles even harder to give - for Black people and folks in other communities of color it often makes the difference between going to check on a symptom or not. However, recognizing the signs and empowering ourselves to advocate for better healthcare is crucial in breaking this cycle. Remember, you always have the option to file a complaint if needed, but your primary focus should be on prioritizing your health and well-being. You deserve to get proper and compassionate healthcare, Beloved; now you have one more weapon in your arsenal to help you decide what that looks like.