What Is Medical Gaslighting, and How Do You Know if It’s Happening to You?

Written by Atlee Hall

Everyone goes to the doctor expecting to be listened to and cared for. But if you’ve ever had your health concerns dismissed by a care provider (or multiple providers) without explanation, you might be a victim of medical gaslighting.

It’s important to note that medical gaslighting isn’t always intentional, and it can be influenced by unconscious biases. But knowing the signs and how to stand up for yourself when it comes to your healthcare can keep you from being harmed.

What Is Medical Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is most often used in the context of personal relationships; it refers to a type of psychological manipulation where victims are made to question their own reality. The same concept can apply to the relationship between healthcare providers and patients.

Medical gaslighting occurs when a medical provider is dismissive or ignorant of your complaints or concerns, leading you to question them yourself. This behavior can have grave consequences for patients who are continuously disregarded or downplayed. It can result in delayed or missed diagnoses, improper treatment, and more.

Long COVID has brought the issue of medical gaslighting to the forefront, as many patients have had difficulty convincing their doctors that their symptoms are legitimate and need treatment.

Marginalized Groups Are More Frequent Victims

While anyone can be harmed by medical gaslighting, some populations are more likely to experience it than others. Studies have shown that women, people of color, and LGBTQ people are disproportionately misdiagnosed, wait longer to be diagnosed, and are more likely to experience discrimination that presents a barrier to receiving quality care.

For example, women are more likely to have heart conditions be misdiagnosed as psychosomatic, and often spend more time waiting in emergency rooms while having the same conditions or symptoms as men. Geriatric patients and those with chronic conditions are also at increased risk of being both over- and underdiagnosed.

Signs of Medical Gaslighting

Medical gaslighting can be obvious, but it is more often subtle. Here are some frequent instances of medical gaslighting:

  • Feeling blamed by your healthcare provider or guilty for bringing up your concerns
  • Having to be persistent and argue just to be heard
  • Being told your symptoms are “just how it is” for your gender, race, age, etc.

If persistent concerns are constantly attributed to your weight, mental health, or stress levels, that could be another sign you’re being gaslighted. You might also hear your provider use phrases like “it’s all in your head” or “it’s not that bad” to minimize your concerns.

What to Do if You Suspect Medical Gaslighting

Knowing the signs of medical gaslighting can help you realize when you aren’t being taken seriously, but what should you do next? Here are some steps you can take to stand up for yourself and prevent future harm:

  • Document your symptoms.  Keep track of when your symptoms started, their severity, and how long they persist. You can bring a priority list of questions you’d like to discuss so you aren’t sidetracked during the conversation.
  • Have a family member or friend present at your appointments.  Bring someone you trust to your appointments to provide emotional support and act as a witness or advocate.
  • Get a second opinion.  You have every right to see another doctor if you feel you aren’t being listened to. For example, you may be more comfortable meeting with a provider who is of the same gender or ethnic background as you are.

If you aren’t properly treated due to medical gaslighting and suffer harm as a result of a misdiagnosis or delayed treatment, you can file a complaint against the provider or pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. A successful lawsuit could recover compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and more.

Have You Been Hurt by Medical Gaslighting? Call Atlee Hall Today

Medical gaslighting is a serious problem that can cause permanent harm to patients who don’t get the help they need. Doctors deal with a demanding workload and see dozens of patients every day, but they have a duty of care to appropriately address your concerns when it comes to your health.

The medical malpractice lawyers of Atlee Hall have years of experience advocating for those hurt by negligent healthcare providers. If you experienced medical gaslighting and were hurt as a result, we will hear your story and if appropriate, demand you receive fair compensation.

Call Atlee Hall today at (717) 393-9596 or use our online contact form to reach out for a free consultation.