What is medical gaslighting?
What is medical gaslighting
Unveiling the impact of medical gaslighting: a personal journey
This is a true story of my experience with medical gaslighting, how it affected my health outcomes, and how it clarified clearly in my mind: what is medical gaslighting. I suspect I have been dealing with an eating disorder throughout my teenage years and into adulthood. But due to the medical gaslighting, I experienced from healthcare professionals, it only worsened.
During one of my psychiatric assessments, I noticed the psychiatrist scrawling down "ED???" in big letters, circling it repeatedly as if to emphasize its significance. These assessments were already traumatic, and every time I spoke, I felt like I was regressing in my recovery, reliving past traumas.
In these assessments, we discussed my sleeping and eating habits. I mustered the courage to admit that there were times when I would forget to eat for several days and occasionally make myself regurgitate meals. I thought this was just a student thing, not realizing it could indicate disordered eating developing into an eating disorder. However, the psychiatrist's response and the look in her eyes suggested that she didn't fully understand the complexities of my situation.
I have never received a formal diagnosis for my eating disorder. Perhaps my weight played a role in this, as I am categorized as obese according to my BMI. However, my weight shouldn't invalidate my struggles and the harm I was causing to myself. I had low self-esteem regarding my body, and my eating patterns were concerning. I wondered if I had body dysmorphia. I would frequently miss meals, and after eating at a restaurant, I would often purge in the restroom because I felt too full. I worried that it was only a matter of time before my relationship with food deteriorated.
To my disappointment, my doctor and other medical professionals in my life didn't seem too concerned, despite knowing about my purging behavior. They continually pressured me to lose weight, adhering to societal norms dictating that fat people must strive to become thin. This emphasis on weight loss overshadowed the possibility of an underlying eating disorder or other health issues. It felt like medical gaslighting, dismissing my concerns, and attributing everything to my weight.
The consequences of medical gaslighting extended beyond my eating disorder. I had been experiencing chronic pain and recurring injuries, which went undiagnosed for an extended period. Whenever I sought medical help for my pain, the response was consistently, "Lose weight, and you'll feel better." It was infuriating because my pain wasn't solely due to my weight; it resulted from accumulating soft tissue injuries faster than my body could recover.
Countless individuals are left to suffer in pain, with worsening illnesses and prognoses, simply because healthcare professionals quickly conclude that their diagnosis is "fat." Moreover, how many fat people have been praised for weight loss without realizing it was a symptom of something much more severe, such as an eating disorder or an underlying health condition like cancer?
The reasons behind this medical gaslighting are twofold. Firstly, my concerns were dismissed as non-urgent since I wasn't thin or wasting away. Secondly, the prevailing belief that weight loss is always beneficial overshadowed any associated psychological, emotional, or physical costs. The only advice I received was centered around weight loss.
I demanded that my disordered eating be recognized as a problem, but it fell on deaf ears. How far did I have to go for them to take notice? What was the cutoff point, and did it solely depend on kilograms lost?
When would they recognize that my self-loathing was an acute psychological symptom, not something to be expected or normalized? Why were crash diets, missed meals, and unhealthy drinks not met with suspicion and alarm?
Society must address the issue of medical gaslighting in women's health. We must stop congratulating weight loss and start genuinely caring for our loved one's well-being. Instead of assuming weight loss is always positive, let's ask how they are doing. The answer may surprise us and reveal underlying struggles that require support and understanding.
Countless individuals are left to suffer in pain, with worsening illnesses and prognoses, simply because healthcare professionals quickly conclude that their diagnosis is "fat."
What is medical gaslighting? Medical gaslighting refers to a situation in which a healthcare provider dismisses, invalidates, or trivializes a patient's concerns, symptoms, or experiences, leading the patient to doubt their own perception of their health or to feel that their health concerns are not being taken seriously. The term "gaslighting" originates from the play and subsequent movie called "Gas Light," where a manipulative husband tries to make his wife doubt her sanity by altering the environment and making her question her perception of reality.
"How many people will suffer harm because of medical gaslighting?"
What is medical gaslighting by a doctor?
My personal experience with medical gaslighting underscores the urgent need for change. It's time to challenge the stereotypes, biases, and dismissive attitudes perpetuating this harmful practice. No one should have to endure physical and emotional suffering due to medical professionals' failure to listen, validate, and provide appropriate care.
Reflecting on my personal experience with medical gaslighting and its profound impact on my health outcomes highlights the significance of understanding what medical gaslighting entails.
Medical gaslighting refers to a situation in which a healthcare provider dismisses, invalidates, or trivializes a patient's concerns, symptoms, or experiences, leading the patient to doubt their own perception of their health or to feel that their health concerns are not being taken seriously.
This insidious practice finds its roots in the concept of gaslighting, derived from the play and subsequent movie "Gas Light," where a manipulative husband attempts to make his wife question her sanity by distorting her perception of reality.
In healthcare, medical gaslighting emerges when a patient's symptoms or complaints are undermined, ignored, or attributed solely to psychological factors, often without proper medical evaluation or consideration. This can manifest in various ways, including healthcare professionals asserting that a patient's symptoms are mere figments of their imagination, exaggerations, or unjustified worries.
Consequently, patients may feel discouraged from seeking further medical assistance, perceive a lack of validation, and witness a deterioration in their physical and emotional well-being.
It is distressing to acknowledge that medical gaslighting disproportionately affects individuals belonging to marginalized groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those with chronic illnesses or mental health conditions. Such individuals often encounter additional hurdles in having their healthcare needs acknowledged and treated seriously, resulting in disparities in diagnosis, treatment, and overall care.
It is crucial to recognize that medical gaslighting violates ethical standards and patient rights. Everyone has the fundamental right to be heard, respected, and provided with appropriate medical care, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or background. If one suspects they have experienced medical gaslighting, seeking a second opinion from another healthcare professional is advisable. Sometimes, finding a provider who genuinely listens to and addresses their concerns becomes necessary.
By sharing my personal story, I hope to shed light on the grave consequences of medical gaslighting and encourage a collective effort to combat this detrimental practice. Every patient deserves to be seen, heard, and treated with compassion and integrity, ensuring their physical and mental well-being remains paramount.
Miriam Swallow Adler
Miriam Swallow Adler, the author of "What is Medical GAslight," is a graduate of Oxford University.