Medical gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that occurs when a healthcare provider dismisses or undermines a patient’s symptoms, concerns, or experiences. The term “gaslighting” comes from a play and subsequent movie called “Gaslight,” in which a man manipulates his wife into questioning her own perceptions and reality. Similarly, medical gaslighting can cause a patient to doubt their own health or the validity of their experiences.
Medical gaslighting can take many forms, from a healthcare provider telling a patient that their symptoms are “all in their head” to dismissing their concerns outright or telling them they’re exaggerating. It can also involve withholding information or testing that could help diagnose or treat a patient’s condition. Medical gaslighting is particularly prevalent in marginalized communities, such as women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities. These groups are more likely to experience medical bias and are less likely to receive appropriate care or a timely diagnosis for their health concerns.
According to The New York Times, some common examples of medical gaslighting include:
- Telling a patient that their symptoms are “just stress” or due to anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.
- Dismissing a patient’s pain or discomfort as “normal” or “not that bad.”
- Refusing to perform certain tests or procedures that could help diagnose or treat a patient’s condition.
- Telling a patient that they’re “too young” or “too healthy” to have a certain condition.
- Assuming that a patient is lying or exaggerating their symptoms because they have a history of mental illness or addiction.
Consequences of Medical Gaslighting
Medical gaslighting is a serious problem that can have severe consequences for individuals who experience it. It can also refer to the practice of medical professionals dismissing, minimizing, or invalidating a patient’s symptoms or concerns, leading to the patient feeling confused, frustrated, and disbelieved. As per National Library of Medicine, this can result in patients receiving inappropriate or inadequate medical care, which can have significant long-term consequences.
Some of the consequences of medical gaslighting include:
- Delayed Diagnosis: One of the most significant consequences of medical gaslighting is delayed diagnosis. When patients are not taken seriously or are dismissed by medical professionals, their symptoms may go untreated for an extended period, leading to further complications and worsening of the condition.
- Misdiagnosis: Medical gaslighting can also lead to misdiagnosis, as medical professionals may not take the patient’s concerns seriously and fail to perform necessary tests or procedures. This can result in the patient receiving inappropriate treatment, which can have negative consequences on their health.
- Mental Health Issues: Medical gaslighting can have a profound impact on a patient’s mental health. Patients may feel invalidated, confused, and helpless, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. They may also lose trust in medical professionals, making it challenging to seek treatment in the future.
- Physical Health Issues: When medical gaslighting leads to delayed or inadequate treatment, it can also result in physical health issues. For example, a patient who is experiencing chest pain but is dismissed by a medical professional may not receive the necessary treatment for a heart condition, leading to further complications.
- Financial Burden: Patients who are subjected to medical gaslighting may have to bear the financial burden of repeated doctor visits, tests, and procedures, as well as the cost of seeking out new medical professionals for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Disbelief in Self: Medical gaslighting can lead to patients doubting themselves and their own experiences. This can cause them to feel disbelieved by others in their personal and professional lives, leading to feelings of isolation and further mental health issues.
In conclusion, medical gaslighting is a serious problem that can have significant consequences for patients. It is crucial for medical professionals to listen to their patients and take their concerns seriously to avoid delayed or inappropriate treatment, misdiagnosis, and negative impacts on a patient’s mental and physical health. Patients must also advocate for themselves and seek out second opinions if they feel they are not being heard or taken seriously by their medical professionals.