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The Silent Struggles of Women's Health: From Self-Neglect to Medical Gaslighting

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Women’s healthcare is a diverse domain that has never been short of complications in the form of societal expectation and occasional medical bias. From the busy lives women are expected to live to the real fear of having their medical concerns ignored, the issue of receiving proper healthcare is a fraught one. As we will see, the importance of self-advocacy and picking empathetic healthcare professionals - including female doctors - becomes all the more crucial in this context.

Too busy to see a doctor?

Due to societal expectations, women often find themselves in a position where accessing healthcare is difficult. Juggling personal and professional concerns, women can often feel that they don’t have the time or the headspace to address real health concerns. This is an issue that is frequently exacerbated by the genuine fear that their concerns may not be taken seriously by medical professionals.

Medical gaslighting: the shocking truth

It’s difficult to believe, but outcomes in health scenarios are very different for women and men who end up in the emergency room. On average, women who show up seeking urgent care can expect to wait up to twelve minutes longer than men in the same situation. This may be down to unconscious bias that has led people to assume women are more likely to exaggerate the severity of their condition, but whether the bias is conscious or not, it’s understandable that it can cause women to be reluctant to seek medical care. It underlines the importance of self-advocacy, and potentially of going to the hospital with a friend or partner who can advocate on your behalf.

Mental health: not just “all in your head”

Women who attend health facilities with physical health concerns may find their concerns downplayed, with heart problems often initially put down to anxiety and autoimmune issues misdiagnosed as depression. But almost as troubling as this is the fact that even if mental health issues are diagnosed, they often aren’t treated properly anyway. The concern over not being taken seriously leads to exacerbation of symptoms - both physical and mental. Eating disorders - which affect women more often than men and are often a manifestation of deeper emotional issues - need to be taken more seriously than they are.

Empowerment in healthcare

There’s no doubt that it is essential for women to advocate for themselves in healthcare settings. But, bearing in mind what has already been discussed, it’s natural that many women will struggle to believe this will make a difference, given how often their concerns are minimised. Seeking second opinions when you don’t feel the first doctor has listened is important. Sensible research of symptoms is worthwhile too, although this needs to come with many caveats about Dr Google. Seeking out female doctors, who are more likely to subvert the trend of not taking female patients seriously, is a smart choice.

Seeking healthcare as a woman is currently far more complex than it ought to be. But if you are armed with the facts and make sure you have support in your corner, it is possible to push back against the things that make it harder.


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