The Harmful Effects Medical Gaslighting Has On Patients

According to The New York Times, "gaslighting" is a term derived from a play produced in 1938 called Gaslight. In it, a husband tries to push his wife over the brink of mental stability. Today, VeryWellMind defines gaslighting as manipulation and emotional abuse within a relationship. Though it often occurs in romantic partnerships, gaslighting can occur in any type of relationship including between doctors and patients.

More women and people of color are speaking out about the gaslighting they've received from their doctors and research seems to back it up. A 2020 study in The Medical Journal of Australia showed that one in seven encounters between a doctor and patient involves some type of diagnostic error, the majority of which are preventable. Another study published in 2014 in Diagnosis (Berlin, Germany) showed that women are more likely to be misdiagnosed than men. 

Sociologist, Chloe Bird, believes this is in part due to scientists not knowing enough about the female body (per The New York Times). The medical publishing company Elsevier is working on eradicating this issue by adding an advanced female model to their anatomy platform, which can positively impact how womens' bodies are taught in the classroom. As a result, more women can receive proper diagnoses instead of being written off and labeled mentally ill. A 2009 study in the Journal of Women's Health found women were twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with a mental illness when, in reality, heart disease may have been the true culprit.

Racial disparities within the healthcare system

Researcher Karen Lutfey Spencer told The New York Times that women of color are especially misdiagnosed and treated differently by doctors even when they have similar health conditions. A study conducted this past January in Health Affairs reported on how racism exists within the medical field and revealed doctors are more likely to label Black patients as non-compliant and uncooperative. This racial disparity affects the treatment Black people receive from healthcare providers, as published in a 2018 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Slowly but surely, researchers and lawmakers are making an effort to eradicate racism and gender bias in the medical field. In 2019, California passed the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act (SB 464) which requires the Office of Health Equity to serve as a resource and try to ensure multicultural health prosperity. This can ultimately help Black mothers and babies receive adequate care and address systemic racial disparities such as being three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women (via U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). According to Health Affairs, researchers suggest medical students should receive training about these matters while still in school. 

Until proper treatment among all genders and races is guaranteed, it's important to advocate for yourself if you feel like you're not being given proper care. WebMD suggests going to your appointment with detailed notes of your symptoms, being straightforward when you feel unheard, and bringing a loved one with you.