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What is Medical Gaslighting? and how can you help protect yourself from it.

Have you ever felt like a doctor or other medical or health professional has been dismissive, not taken your concerns seriously or even denied their existence, perhaps fobbing you off as being ‘anxious’, ‘stressed’, or even that you are imagining things. Unfortunately, this is something that many patients report. This is ‘Medical Gaslighting’ and it’s a serious problem in the healthcare system. Like any type of gaslighting, it can be highly distressing and upsetting to be subjected to this.  


What is medical gaslighting?


Medical gaslighting is when a healthcare practitioner, like a doctor or nurse minimises, dismisses, negates or denies a patients concerns or reports of their symptoms. This can leave the patient seeking help to feel invalidated, not believed and in extreme cases can even leave a person starting to doubt their own perception and wonder if they are indeed imagining their symptoms. Like any kind of gaslighting, it is highly psychologically and emotionally abusive and disturbing. In a healthcare setting, this can be especially problematic as it can lead to a lack of trust in the medical field and may cause misdiagnosis, misunderstandings, delays in treatment, or even a lack of treatment. This all has further knock-on effects to physical and/or emotional health.


Why does medical gaslighting happen?


It’s really wrong that medical gaslighting occurs, however it does and it is something that I sadly hear more and more of. I’ve experienced it myself. Sadly, the current state of the NHS in the UK means that many health professionals are overworked, verging on burnout or under other pressures and restraints to ensure optimal healthcare provision. Some people have their own biases or beliefs and may wrongly interpret who a person may present. This does not excuse gaslighting but it can help explain why it happens. Unfortunately, yet frankly, some medical staff are simply downright arrogant and bullyish and are probably in the wrong job!


What can I do if I have been medically gaslighted?


Your health and wellbeing should be the priority. If you feel you have not been listened to, heard or that your concerns are not being considered and/or appropriate further action is not being offered, then seek a second opinion. You are entitled to seek further advice. NHS trusts and private clinics have complaints procedures in place and it is important to raise concerns if you feel like you have been treated in ways that are not in line with recommended guidelines and practises. 

Do not let one persons lack of appropriate understanding put you off seeking the right kind of support you want and need. 


What can I do to protect myself from medical gaslighting?


As I’ve expressed, unfortunately medical gaslighting does occur for any number of reasons. However, there are some ways in which you can help protect yourself from this and to stop this potentially getting in the way of you seeking and getting the appropriate help and support. 


  • Do your own research: Whilst we should have some caution about self-diagnosis, getting a clear picture of your concerning symptoms and research a bit of what that may be can be helpful to discuss with your doctor or GP. Have a clear idea about what it is you are asking for.

  • Make notes & prepare questions: If you find it helpful, take some prepared notes or list of bullet points with symptoms and/or questions you would like to ask before any appointments. Be sure to get answers to each of these and make a note of this.

  • Bring a trusted friend or family member: Medical gaslighting seems to less likely when there is an accompanying person with you. Take somebody along to your appointment if possible who can be there to witness any discussion and to provide support if necessary.

  • Be assertive: Know what you are concerned about and have a clear idea about what you might like as an outcome. For example, further investigations or a referral etc. Of course, be polite, but if you feel like you are being gaslighted medically, be politely assertive and ask questions about why they are making the conclusions they are. I would also summarise their words back to them. For example, ‘OK, so you are saying that this is definitely nothing… OK… please kindly make a note of your view on my records’ and then seek a second opinion.

  • Seek a second opinion: If, for whatever reason, you are not feeling satisfied with your healthcare provider’s understanding, diagnosis, response or treatment suggestion, request a second option from another professional. 


Conclusion


Medical gaslighting is sadly and wrongly an all too common issue in healthcare these days. Aside from the emotional impact of this on patients, there can be serious knock-on effects if gaslighting delays or causes a miss of important and accurate diagnosis and treatment. 


Like with gaslighting in general, we can’t stop or control what somebody does, however we can manage how we deal with this. Educating yourself about gaslighting in the first instance is helpful in order to recognise if and when this occurs. Being clear about your concerns and having some idea about your expectations from a healthcare provider is also useful. Bring a supportive person to any appointments if possible and if you are unsatisfied with the outcome, know that you can request a second opinion. If it’s helpful seeking appropriate psychological support with this may also be useful. Sadly many people seek therapy for experiences with medical gaslighting and/or negligence. Remember, your health and wellbeing matters and you deserve to have your concerns listened to and taken seriously and appropriately.



For more guides on dealing with gaslighting, narcissistic abuse or toxic relationships check out Dr. Sarah Davies books.



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