Medical Gaslighting and Its Psychological Impact on Women
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where someone makes another person question their own reality, memory, or perceptions. In the medical field, gaslighting occurs when medical providers dismiss or downplay a female patient's symptoms and concerns. This insidious form of medical gaslighting can have serious psychological consequences for women.
Many women report being told by doctors that their symptoms are "all in their head" or "just stress" when in fact they had underlying medical issues requiring treatment. For example, women with autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or lupus often get misdiagnosed for years and told their debilitating symptoms are purely psychosomatic. Similarly, women complaining of chronic pain or fatigue are frequently told it's just anxiety or depression without proper examination.
This tendency to attribute women's physical symptoms to mental health issues leads to inadequate healthcare and delayed diagnosis. The assumption that "it's not that bad" or "you're overreacting" causes real suffering as women's conditions go untreated. It also leads to internalized self-doubt as women question their own perceptions of their illness.
In addition to dismissing women's symptoms, providers also frequently under-treat women's pain compared to men. Study after study has shown gender bias in pain management, with women less likely to be given medication or referred to specialists. This leads to prolonged pain and poor quality of life.
Medical gaslighting takes a tremendous psychological toll on women. It leaves them feeling frustrated, confused, and emotionally exhausted from fighting to be heard and believed. Women who have their physical suffering attributed to mental illness often internalize this notion and develop anxiety, depression, or other psychological distress - the very conditions they were misdiagnosed with initially!
At Elevate Health and Wellness we take a holistic approach to mental health treatment. Both therapists and medication providers work closely to identify and rule out potential medical, environmental, or psychosocial causes of our clients’ symptoms and work collaboration to create customized treatment plans.
It is vital that both clinicians and the public acknowledge the insidious practice of medical gaslighting of women. Women must be empowered to advocate for themselves and find health professionals who validate their lived experiences. And the medical field needs to reckon with its gender bias in order to provide equitable, patient-centered healthcare for women.
Here are some suggestions for further reading on the topic of medical gaslighting of women:
Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery - Explores gender bias in medicine and how it leads to misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment of women.
Mind Over Medicine by Lissa Rankin - Makes the case that many health issues labeled as psychosomatic really do have a physical basis.
Odd Girl Out by Laura James - An autobiography of living with autism that was missed for years due to gender bias.
Interested in scheduling an appointment with Lauren Falcone? Contact our office today at 203-450-4882.