The term “medical gas relief” may be relatively new, but the practice has impacted people’s health outcomes for decades.
“Medical gas relief is when concerns about your health care are brushed aside, they are not heard, and they are minimized,” said Stacey E. Rosen, senior vice president of the Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell Health and co-author of “Heart Smarter for Women – 6 Weeks to a Healthier Heart.”
It can be so subtle that you may not even realize it’s happening to you.
Gaslighting in psychology refers to a certain type of manipulation where you are tricked into questioning your own reality.
And in healthcare, medical gaslighting is quite common, Rosen says. Especially among certain marginalized groups such as women and minorities, including blacks and Latinos.
Those groups are more likely to experience medical gaslighting, Rosen adds.
And for people who belong to more than one of those groups, such as black women, it could be even worse, says Tina Sacks, an associate professor at the school of social welfare at UC Berkeley.
“Women in general in health care are being invalidated because of pervasive misogyny,” Sacks says, “and when you combine that with a profound anti-blackness that runs throughout society, these groups of people are more likely to be fired.”
Keeping your health problems to a minimum can lead to serious life or death consequences, Sacks says.
Black women have historically had the highest maternal mortality rates, and many suspect this is due to institutional racism and the alleviation of their concerns.
If you think you’ve experienced medical gaslighting or want to be prepared for it to happen to you, here are a few signs to watch out for and tips to advocate for yourself.
How to recognize ‘medical gaslighting’
It can be difficult to know when gaslight is happening to you, especially if you assume your doctor knows best, Sacks says.
Because health care providers have expertise that you may not, it’s highly likely that you’ll take their word for it even if they dismiss your symptoms, she says.
“One thing to remember when we go to the doctor is that the health care provider has specialized knowledge of healthcare and health topics in general, but you know your body,” says Sacks, “You know more than anyone else what’s happening to yourself.” .”
Sacks interviewed a black woman who had suffered knee pain for 15 years and was constantly told by doctors that it was due to her weight.
She later found out she had two tumors in her knee after being in pain every day for nearly twenty years.
If persistent symptoms are quickly attributed to weight, stress, anxiety, depression, or work overload, Rosen says it’s possible that your worries will be minimized.
Here are a few phrases that may also indicate medical gaslighting:
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “That’s normal for your age.”
- “I’m sure that’s not…” (prior to testing)
- “It’s just a little bit of swelling.”
How to Plead Yourself to the Doctor
To make sure your concerns are taken seriously, Rosen recommends taking notes before seeing your doctor and listing any changes in your health. Also come prepared with a list of questions and concerns you hope to discuss during your visit.
Taking notes during your appointment can help you follow up on things you don’t understand, she adds.
“Make yourself a better health care advocate,” Rosen says, “We know that health care visits last 15 minutes, so how do you make the most of your 15 minutes?”
Also consider bringing someone else to the appointment, if allowed. This will give you an extra ear and emotional support, Rosen says.
Someone who knows you well can also help you validate your concerns and repeat them if they’re rejected, she notes.
“Sometimes when there’s a second person in the room, that person is a different voice [that can say] ‘No, she has never had these kinds of complaints in the past’ and ‘No, this has nothing to do with stress.’ I’m her mother, I’m her sister, I’m her friend,” she says.
It can also be helpful to find and keep a doctor you trust. A doctor who is familiar with your medical history may be more understanding of your concerns, notes Rosen.
But sometimes the answer may be to change doctors or get a second opinion, Rosen says.
For visits you’re nervous about, using mindfulness techniques before you arrive or while listening to the doctor can help you think more clearly and advocate for yourself when necessary, Sacks said.
A few mindfulness exercises she recommends include:
- Finger tap exercises
- Singing in your mind
- Inhale and exhale
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