First, what is it? Medical gaslighting is psychological manipulation and emotional abuse. It’s when a physician or other medical provider downplays or ignores a patient’s legitimate concerns. This often leads the patient to believe the problem is just in their imagination.
Here’s what we’re about to take a deep dive into:
- Statistically, women and people of color experience medical gaslighting more than any other group.
- Specific examples of gaslighting in a medical setting.
- It can and often is an accident, but it’s still negligence.
- Sometimes doctors psychologically manipulate their patients, ignore them, and brush them off.
- Gaslighting can lead to devastating medical issues and even death.
- Sometimes the best case scenario for a patient is to file a lawsuit.
- Filing a malpractice claim and proving gaslighting isn’t easy. We’ll break it down into 3 simple steps.
Have you ever been to the doctor’s office only to be dismissed as a hypochondriac, when you know you have very real symptoms or pain?
Ever hear “it’s all in your head”? Or “oh it’s just a minor headache,” when you know it’s much, much more? According to the CPTSD Foundation, a medical professional telling a patient they’re just “imagining that they’re ill” is a form of gaslighting. Questioning the patient’s sanity is another form it takes.
It’s frustrating and sometimes embarrassing when your doctor doubts your issues. And what’s worse? You may start believing them. When you were actually right.
Welcome to medical gaslighting.
A Typical Gaslighting Experience
Deborah Cohan is someone who experienced medical gaslighting firsthand. When she was doubling over with excruciating midsection pain, her doctor simply dismissed her concerns.
“It’s just some back pain. Here, take these muscle relaxants.”
When the medicine resolved nothing, she rushed to the ER. There, she experienced more dismissive behavior. The doctor there told Cohan she had uterine fibroids. That couldn’t be possible because Deborah explained to them she no longer had a uterus.
That wasn’t the case, the doctor explained. “You’re mistaken.”
After being dismissed over and over again, it was finally revealed by her gynecologist she had a condition called ovarian torsion. Not back pain. Not uterine fibroids. She had to have immediate surgery to remove both ovaries. Deborah’s concerns were as real as her pains.
Gaslighting can have some pretty serious consequences. When it leads to medical negligence, the results can sometimes be fatal. If Deborah’s story hits close to home, you might have experienced gaslighting yourself. Do you believe your doctor’s dismissive behavior has caused you injury or worsened any existing conditions? You may be able to file a claim.
What Is Medical Gaslighting?
You probably know what gaslighting is. But just in case you don’t – it’s the repeated denial of someone else’s reality in an attempt to invalidate or dismiss them. It’s actually considered emotional abuse. So how does this work in the medical field?
Medical gaslighting is when a medical professional downplays a patient’s legitimate concerns.
Here’s what it can look like:
- When your doctor dismisses or criticizes your sentiments. If someone accuses you of being too sensitive or overreacting when you have legitimate issues and sentiments, for example.
- When a doctor shifts the emphasis of a conversation and instead doubts your trustworthiness. (“You’re reading too much into it,” or “that was simply an overreaction.”)
- When the doctor queries your memory (“Are you sure?”), (” You have a very vague memory of the details.”)
- Stereotyping. That is, the deliberate use of negative stereotypes about your gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, country, or age.
- The doctor denies saying or doing something, or accuses you of making things up, or pretends to forget.
- When a doctor refuses to participate in a conversation or acts like they don’t understand you so they don’t have to answer. (“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” or “I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.”)
It typically falls under one of these categories:
- A medical provider blames a patient’s symptoms or illness on psychological factors.
- A medical provider trivializes a patient’s symptoms.
- The medical provider denies a patient’s illness entirely.
Let’s take a look at some numbers.
Medical Gaslighting & Women – The Statistics
Gaslighting can be a problem for any patient, regardless of sex. But where sex is concerned, women seem to bear the brunt of it. Here are the stats.
Statistics on Gaslighting in the Medical Field
Women who went to the ER with severe stomach discomfort had to wait much longer than men. They waited 33 percent longer than males with the same symptoms. This is according to research published in Academic Emergency Medicine.
Women are also two to three times more likely than males to get RA. They’re four times more likely to develop chronic fatigue syndrome. And they’re three times more likely to develop autoimmune diseases. These diseases are typically accompanied by excruciating pain.
There are two main issues with subjective symptoms. They don’t appear on lab tests, and many doctors have a bias towards women. In fact, this study shows that when women had symptoms of heart disease, they were twice as likely to get diagnosed with a mental illness. (As men with the same symptoms.) This is where medical gaslighting comes in.
Now, here’s some additional insight into why women seem to experience medical gaslighting more than men.
Bias & Medical Research
Medical research frequently uses male volunteers and ignores issues that predominantly affect women. Five times as many studies have been dedicated to erectile dysfunction, over PMS symptoms. Over 90 percent of women report at least one PMS symptom. And erectile dysfunction? It only affects 19 percent of males. (This is according to ResearchGate research.)
Also, only 24% of participants in 46 pharmacological trials from 2004 were women. (According to a 2007 research paper published in the Journal of Women’s Health.)
Not so great.
Race-Associated Medical Gaslighting
Medical gaslighting is not exclusive to women, of course. Both women and people of color are known targets for health-related gaslighting.
Sadly, racism provides a foundation for gaslighting in the public health sector.
Some health care providers treat people with bias, based on the color of their skin. Of course, none of these beliefs or assumptions are true. And as a result, race-based medical gaslighting can have dire consequences. Here’s a story of what Dr Moore firmly believed was racial medical gaslighting.
Dr Susan Moore’s Experience
Dr Susan Moore’s physician denied medication for her chest pain. She reported that she had to plead with her doctor to take chest scans. Her healthcare provider apparently didn’t believe her self-reported symptoms. This case happened in December 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Moore finally got a scan done and it confirmed that she had lung issues. She posted a video online to recount her experience. In the video, she said that the doctors would have taken her complaint if she had been white. She said “I put forth and I maintain, if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.”
Her Complications & Death
Dr Moore died from COVID-19 complications two weeks after leaving the hospital. Moore’s estate filed paperwork to begin pursuing a wrongful death claim in 2021.
Sometimes healthcare providers work with preconceived beliefs about people. Based on gender, culture, or on the color of their skin. And this often doesn’t end well, for physicians or the patients. But is gaslighting a form of malpractice?
Medical Gaslighting As A Form Of Malpractice
Some forms of medical malpractice can be spotted from a mile away. It’s easy to notice negligence when a surgeon leaves a dirty rag inside your body. Or when your doctor prescribes you the wrong medicine. But dismissive behavior? Downplaying your symptoms? Not so easy.
Medical gaslighting can have some pretty serious consequences, too. That’s why it’s important to talk to someone if you have even the slightest suspicion something isn’t right.
Feeling dismissed by your doctor is just the tip of this gaslighting iceberg. What can and often does exist beneath the surface is malpractice.
Because this is what can happen if a doctor gaslights you:
You may get anxious and fearful.
Imagine feeling constant pain just so your doctor can say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. That’s when a very real fear kicks in. It feels like nobody will help you. If your own doctor can’t take the pain away, who can? This can lead to serious psychological consequences and emotional distress.
You may get misdiagnosed.
Sometimes a provider can gaslight you into thinking your condition isn’t as severe. They might misdiagnose you with something less serious. In this case, you’d be getting treatment for a condition you don’t have at all.
You may experience delayed diagnosis.
If your provider misdiagnoses you, or just sends you home altogether, what does that mean for your existing condition? A delayed diagnosis (or no diagnoses) can lead to disease progression. Your underlying condition can worsen without you receiving the proper treatment for it. This can be fatal in some cases. If you find yourself in one of the situations above, you may have a medical malpractice case. But before we get to our examples, let’s unpack the symptoms you may have.
Symptoms of Medical Gaslighting
Medical gaslighting is often associated with several symptoms. In gaslighting cases, medical experts make light of your symptoms or ignore them completely. Your feelings don’t matter, only their diagnosis does. They may go as far as telling you that you are “imagining” your symptoms.
As a victim of medical gaslighting, you may:
- Question your sanity and sense of judgment. You may wonder if you’re chasing shadows or losing your mind. The symptoms are right there, but the physician says otherwise. It is a terrifying feeling.
- Feel disrespected and taken for granted. You may feel disrespected when the doctor brushes your valid opinion aside. You may feel angry when your symptoms worsen with no progress in sight.
- Feel a nagging and persistent instinct that something is wrong. Listen to your intuition in these sorts of cases! Better safe than sorry, after all. However, you may also feel helpless when your physician dismisses your complaints and symptoms. This can lead to stress and anxiety.
- Feel anxious or depressed. You may be constantly on edge or worried that something more serious is wrong with your body. You may begin to think that the doctor might be missing something.
The big question is… can you sue a doctor for medical gaslighting? The good news is you can, if you have a case. Just contact an attorney and present your claims with supporting evidence. (We’ll cover that in detail soon.)
Medical gaslighting can be a traumatic experience for patients, as you’ll soon see. Let’s cover some real life examples.
Medical Gaslighting Examples
These real life stories may help you better understand what gaslighting is, and how it takes place.
Isabella Rosario’s Medical Gaslighting Story
“Sometimes I still believe the doctors who gaslit me.
Every time I go to the doctor, I sit on the examination table and mentally prepare myself to be disbelieved.
To be told it’s just normal aches and pains. To be condescended to, or even laughed at…
…I came down with a sore throat and debilitating fatigue that overwhelmed my aching muscles. The doctor I saw at my university’s clinic spent little time examining me.
Instead, upon seeing antidepressants listed in my chart, he decided my symptoms were likely caused by mental illness.
He advised me to seek counseling.
I didn’t. Instead, I saw my primary care doctor from home, who told me that I had pneumonia.
My school’s doctor was wrong, as my symptoms continued. Discouragingly, most of the specialists I saw over the next year weren’t any better.” (Read the rest here.)
Harrowing Stories From Twitter
Here are a few medical gaslighting stories patients shared on Twitter:
“wife went to the ER. Bad headache for days. Nausea. Tinnitus. They did blood tests and imaging. The doctor said, “we can’t find anything,” Then to me, “are you paying her enough attention?”. She stood, collapsed. Later dxed with intracranial hypertension. #PatientsAreNotFaking” @SimonoffBob
“I bled through every feminine [product] I used, within an hour. My doctor at the time tried to “fix” the bleeding with birth control. I have stage four endometrial cancer. #PatientsAreNotFaking” @Sarah_Samedi
“I was told multiple times over the course of several weeks in & out of the emergency room that I was having panic attacks & needed to calm down/relax. Turns out, it’s extremely hard to relax when you’re having your first attack from Multiple Sclerosis (MS). #PatientsAreNotFaking” @tori_saylor See more here.
These patients definitely could’ve used some insight into how to file a claim for gaslighting. And speaking of…
How To File A Claim For Medical Gaslighting
Simply saying a physician was gaslighting you probably won’t hold up in court. Filing a malpractice claim and receiving compensation involves more evidence. In order for your case to get anywhere, there’s one crucial information that you need to prove:
The injury, condition or pain you have is the direct result of medical negligence. Negligence that occurred because of medical gaslighting.
Your claim must show that your suffering could have been prevented, had the doctor acted more responsibly.
At this point, you probably want to know how to file a claim. If you believe your doctor is gaslighting, you can take the steps below to file a claim. But first, keep this in mind. In the very beginning – as soon as possible – keep a journal. Record your symptoms, the date you had them, the time of day and severity. Record your doctor’s responses to your symptoms in detail. Keep recording every symptom after, and everything that happens related to the symptoms.
Sidenote: If you go through these records and your doctor still blows you off, you can get a second opinion.
But let’s say your doctor ignored your symptoms, and you were injured as a result. Here’s how you can file a claim for medical gaslighting.
Your claim is as good as your evidence. Collect it! Make sure you gather all important documents pertaining to your case. Your claim will only be accepted if you’re able to prove negligence occurred.
Here are the documents you need to gather:
- All of your medical documents – this includes any lab test results, scans, and/or x-rays
- Medical bills or receipts – you can get compensated for these
- All forms of communication between you and your provider
- Any medications or prescriptions
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers these suggestions for gathering evidence:
- Speak with a trusted family member or friend. This can help you obtain a fresh perspective on the problem and build a separate, external record of data.
- Keep voice memos. Describe events and record them in your own words using a mobile phone or other device. However, always verify your state’s laws first!
- Keep a private journal. To keep track of occurrences, including the date, time, and specifics of what occurred.
- Take photographs. To double-check your memory and ensure that you are not hallucinating.
Contact An Experienced Lawyer
Handling a medical malpractice case all on your own is a difficult feat. Especially one that can be tricky to prove. A professional attorney can help take the burden off your shoulders and help your case go smoothly.
There’s usually a strict statute of limitations with medical malpractice cases. This timeline is usually 2 years. That means you have to file your claim within two years of your injury.
Remember when we mentioned a surgeon leaving behind a dirty rag in a patient’s body? That sort of negligence wouldn’t be very difficult to prove. But medical gaslighting? How do you prove that?
After you’ve gathered all your evidence, here’s what your claim must show:
- The medical provider had a duty to provide the patient with proper medical care. This includes properly diagnosing you and not downplaying your symptoms.
- There was a breach of duty. Every medical professional has a standard of care they must follow. If they performed below that standard, they breached their duty.
- The actions of the medical provider caused you harm.
- The damages you suffered. This can include medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more.
Gaslighting and healthcare don’t mix. Unfortunately, some patients still experience this form of medical negligence. We understand how frustrating and detrimental this can be to your mental and physical wellbeing. That’s why we’re here to listen. Contact us so we can discuss your experience. We can discuss the best course of action for your case and get you the justice you deserve.
Medical Gaslighting – Quick Answers
What is medical gaslighting?
Medical gaslighting is when doctors blame the patient’s mental state for their symptoms, for example. Or when they brush off the patient’s worries, claiming there is nothing wrong when there is. This can happen with other medical providers as well.
What are some examples of medical gaslighting?
If you find yourself in one of the following scenarios, you may be experiencing medical gaslighting:
- Your doctor criticizes and ignores your reasonable complaints.
- Your doctor tells you you’re overreacting or being too sensitive. (And you know you have legitimate issues.)
- The doctor doubts your memory, when you believe you remember the issue clearly.
- Your doctor dismisses your concerns, saying things like “I don’t understand what you’re saying,” or “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
- The doctor claims you’re making things up, but you’re being perfectly reasonable.
- The doctor stereotypes your gender, sexuality, country, age, ethnicity or race. (It’s easy to forget things when you get older,” or “I hear this a lot with women, and it really isn’t a problem.”
Who is at risk of medical gaslighting?
Anyone can fall victim to medical gaslighting. However, certain individuals are more prone to dismissive behavior from some medical providers.
Research shows doctors are more likely to tell women their symptoms are simply due to stress or depression. This is gaslighting in the form of gender bias. Data also shows that people of color are targets for health-related gaslighting.
Can you prevent medical gaslighting?
There’s no fool-proof method to ensure you won’t become a victim of medical gaslighting. But you can take a few measures to decrease your chances.
- Look for health care professionals who are honest, respectful, and attentive. Good healthcare workers know to consider your feelings (instead of shoving them aside).
- Bring someone along. Unfortunately, most people who experience medical gaslighting go into their appointments alone. Individuals are more prone to this kind of behavior.
Can you sue a doctor for medical gaslighting?
Medical gaslighting is a severe form of medical malpractice. It’s rightly frowned upon in medical institutions. So, if your doctor is making light of your symptoms, you may be able to take legal action. If you have a case, you can file a malpractice lawsuit against the doctor with the help of a good attorney.
How can you sue a doctor for lying or medical gaslighting?
There are a number of steps your attorney can walk you through. And that’s the main thing – talk to your medical malpractice attorney! Your lawyer will let you know if you have a case. And then, he or she will help you pursue the compensation and justice that you deserve.
How do you respond to gaslighting?
Here’s a few quick tips to help you respond properly to gaslighting:
- Determine whether or not it’s actually gaslighting
- Make sure you take care of yourself, and get another doctor or other provider if you need to.
- Gather as much evidence as you can.
- Speak to a malpractice attorney to get a good grip on your options.
- Involve your family and friends for emotional support if possible.
- Seek additional professional support if necessary.
My doctor sounds pretty convincing. Maybe it is all in my head. What should I do?
We’re conditioned to follow the doctor’s instructions. Sometimes, we never question their diagnosis (or lack thereof). Please get a second opinion from another provider. And maybe even a third. Nothing is more important than your health!
And if you were a patient who still needed treatment but were abandoned, you may have a case. Learn about patient abandonment here.
What are the requirements for a medical gaslighting claim?
There are requirements you must fulfill before presenting your claims. You must prove that a doctor-patient relationship existed between you and the physician. Secondly, you must prove that the doctor was negligent. You must also prove that the doctor’s negligence caused serious harm or injury. If that sounds like your situation, you may have a case.
Is medical gaslighting illegal?
The reality is, medical gaslighting can lead to things like misdiagnosis, for example. And that can lead to medical malpractice lawsuits. And medical malpractice can become a criminal offense.
Why does medical gaslighting happen?
There are a wide variety of reasons medical gaslighting happens. When a doctor disregards or minimizes dangerous symptoms, it’s called medical gaslighting.
Do psychiatrists gaslight?
Sadly, yes. Many therapists, psychiatrists and other health professionals have been involved in gaslighting. This is a serious problem that can cause serious harm and even the death of their patients. If you believe you’re the victim of medical gaslighting, you can contact an attorney to discuss your options.
Can medical gaslighting cause mental illness?
Gaslighting can certainly lead to mental illness of various forms. For example, it may cause a patient emotional distress in regards to their condition and lack of support. This confusion, self-doubt and fear can cause more and more anxiety to build. Anxiety, fear, low self esteem and hopelessness can easily turn into depression.
Can medical gaslighting cause schizophrenia?
In a very extreme case, gaslighting can cause anxiety and depression. This could potentially contribute to lapses into psychosis. But schizophrenia specifically? The fact is, we don’t know for sure.