BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that involves someone in power using manipulation to make another person doubt their own judgement or sanity, according to an article published in the National Library of Medicine.

What is medical gaslighting?

Though gaslighting is commonly viewed as a hallmark of domestic abuse, it can also creep into professional settings, including the medical community.

According to the CPTSD Foundation, medical gaslighting occurs when a healthcare provider dismisses a patient’s health concerns as nothing more than the product of their imagination. They may tell the person their symptoms are “in their head” or label the person as a hypochondriac.

Who are often affected by medical gaslighting?

The previously mentioned article published in the National Library of Medicine pointed out that for years, women have been handed the short end of the stick when it comes to medical gaslighting.

The article states, “Gaslighting has been used by physicians to dismiss women’s health problems, enforcing the misogynist stereotype that women are irrational and “hysterical,” a prejudice that dates back centuries. Even Hippocrates believed that the womb traveled throughout the body causing hysteria, a psychological diagnosis that was only removed with the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd ed, in 1980.”

Along these lines, an article from Advisory Board adds, “Research suggests that women are more likely to be misdiagnosed than men in many situations. Additionally, women wait longer to receive a diagnosis for a variety of conditions, including cancer and heart disease, they are treated less aggressively for traumatic brain injuries, and they are less likely to be given pain medications.”

The article goes on to state that physicians are more likely to label Black patients as “uncooperative” or “non-compliant” in medical records, which can negatively impact that quality of care these individuals receive from other healthcare providers.

Women and patients of color appear to be victimized by medical gaslighting more often than other groups. That said, it can happen to anyone.

Seeing as medical gaslighting can lead to a misdiagnosis or to a delay in much-needed medical care, many would like to see something done about this dangerous form of abuse.

Many point out that eradicating the problem would require sweeping changes to the medical field as a whole. They suggest expanded medical school training on topics such as unconscious bias and racism in the healthcare industry, changing the system so that doctor can spend more time with each of their patients, and increasing the amount of research studies devoted to women’s health conditions.

But if changes like the ones listed above ever happen, it’s likely they would take years to be implemented.

In the meantime, there are some suggestions that experts agree may be beneficial for women, persons of color, and others who’ve been victimized by gaslighting.

How to lessen the likelihood of medical gaslighting

The following suggestions may help to lessen the likelihood of being labeled as a “difficult” patient or having a physician dismiss important questions and concerns as unimportant:

Bring a trusted friend/relative to your appointment– By bringing a companion to your next medical appointment, you’re shoring up your case with the presence of an advocate who can back you up when you explain that you’re in pain and suspect you need some sort of exam/therapy for the issue.

Prepare a list of questions for the physician and then ask away– Before your next appointment, prepare a list of questions. And according to a New York Times article on the subject, if you aren’t sure which questions to start with, you might want to ask the doctor, “If you were me, what questions would you ask?”

At the end of the appointment, clarify your next steps- Before leaving, clearly define:

  1. The doctor’s current theory about the condition in question/symptoms you’re experiencing
  2. How your doctor expects to rule out various possibilities and get a definite diagnosis

Keep detailed notes/records regarding your health– It can be helpful to keep records of all lab results, imaging, medications, family medical history, and emails/messages from doctors. In addition to this, it’s often recommended that patients keep a personal health journal with as many details as possible about their symptoms. The entries in the journal should answer questions like: What are my symptoms? When do I feel these symptoms? Do they seem to be triggered by anything in particular? What does the pain feel like?

Tips on reacting to medical gaslighting

Suppose despite taking the steps above, you find your concerns being dismissed by a healthcare provider who simply doesn’t seem capable of taking you seriously?

According to the New York Times, you can:

Get a new doctor. You can ask your general practitioner for a referral to another doctor for a second opinion. Or, you can reach out to friends and family and ask them if they know an excellence physician who they’d recommend. You can also call your insurance company, explain the situation, and ask for help in finding someone in your network.

Speak with the doctor’s supervisor. If the doctor is treating you with disrespect, it’s likely s/he is doing this to others and it may be well past time for their unprofessional behavior to be officially reported. To do this, you can either speak with the hospital’s patient advocacy staff, contact the doctor’s supervisor, or report your experience to the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Join a local support group. If you’re suffering from a chronic illness and your healthcare provider’s mistreatment has left you with feelings of insecurity and fear, you might find emotional relief by joining a support group consisting of individuals with the same diagnosis. These groups can be located online, through platforms like Facebook and WebMd. Or, they can be found in person via sites such as Meetup.

Though most physicians aren’t required to literally take the Hippocratic oath, they’re still expected to ‘refrain from causing harm or hurt, and to live an exemplary personal and professional life.’

Fortunately, this is a heavy responsibility that many doctors take seriously. These knowledgeable and compassionate healthcare providers make the choice to empower patients and work alongside them throughout their healthcare journey.

In cases of medical gaslighting, it may be that physicians have become so overwhelmed by their jobs or personal issues that they no longer have the emotional capacity to work within the parameters of the Hippocratic oath. In these situations, patients who choose to seek medical attention elsewhere may be making a life-saving decision.