What is medical gaslighting?

Have you ever sought out the professional opinion of a doctor with a real medical issue, only to be told you’re worrying over nothing? Then you might be the victim of medical gaslighting.

Unfortunately, we’ve all experienced gaslighting to some extent. Most often as a red flag within romantic relationships, this phenomenon can occur in many other circumstances. And worryingly, within the medical world. Medical gaslighting is the psychological manipulation and emotional abuse of a patient by a medical professional, when a physician or medical provider downplays or ignores any real concerns a patient may have. Ultimately, leading to a patient doubting their feelings and own instinct, thinking a feared medical issue is simply in their imagination. 

Though anyone can be a victim of medical gaslighting, statistics show that it is much more common amongst women and ethnic minorities. A 2019 study found that Black people were more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, resulting in the incorrect treatment being given, and a 2014 survey of over 2,400 women with chronic pain found that 84% of respondents felt like they were treated differently because they were women. 



What to look out for

Below we’ll cover some tell-tale signs of medical gaslighting to watch for. 



One red flag is when a medical provider keeps interrupting you during the conversation, making it harder for you to explain the underlying issues concisely and confidently that you’re seeking help for. Furthermore, it indicates that the medical provider prioritizes their own time over that of the patient.



Though the average medical professional is busy, and practitioners will see a vast number of patients in a day, a doctor shouldn’t rush you through your appointment or deprive you of their full attention. This is a recipe for disaster as important details or concerns you may have could be overlooked or missed, leading to mistakes and misdiagnoses. 


Withholding information

Some doctors may refuse to discuss your symptoms, disregard their importance, or refrain from going into detail on treatment options, establishing a clear lack of regard for your understanding or well-being. If your medical practitioner downplays your reported symptoms or refuses to have a level conversation with you about them, this can lead to delayed treatment or misdiagnoses. You’ll be surprised to learn that this is more common than people think. A 2020 study found that one in seven medical appointments involved a diagnostic error, with 75% of these being due to errors in clinician decision-making, like overconfidence in a wrong diagnosis.


Personal prejudice 

Unfortunately, underlying biases and prejudices can and will still affect professional workplaces the world over, the medical profession included. Race bias, stereotypes, ableism, misogyny, and homophobia can cause some medical providers to make errors in their diagnoses, and judgements due to their personal agendas.  

Evidence of bias leading to delayed treatment or misdiagnoses include a 2020 paper which saw that Lyme disease, cystic fibrosis, and skin cancer were diagnosed later in black people than white people, whilst a 2014 study found that women were more likely to be misdiagnosed than men after having a stroke. 


It’s all in your head

One step above not taking your symptoms seriously or playing down their seriousness, is a medical practitioner questioning these symptoms entirely. Possibly telling you that they are psychosomatic, ‘all in your head’, or even diagnosing a mental health issue rather than testing for a physical problem. 

This phenomenon is especially common amongst women. With there being a glaring lack of research and funding surrounding women’s health issues, healthcare providers may take a lack of evidence around a woman’s condition as scope for there being no illness at all. 


Doubting Medical Past

In cases where a patient may have an extensive medical history, a list of allergies, or takes several medications, doctors may dismiss or question the legitimacy of their medical history, going off the assumption that people in this situation often catastrophize their conditions.

In situations like this, it is not uncommon for doctors to write patients off as difficult, dishonest, or just a hypochondriac, which can lead to inadequate treatments and symptoms persisting. 

What to do about it?

Do some of these examples ring a big fat bell for you? Worried that maybe you, a family member, a friend, a loved one may have experienced medical gaslighting too? Well, here are a few tips to ensure you get what you need out of a trip to the doctor. 


  • Find another provider: if you feel like your current provider isn’t listening to your symptoms, then the best course of action is to find a new medical provider. Shop around and find someone who is honest, direct, makes you feel comfortable, and really listens to you when you speak. 
  • Prioritize your concerns: in an effort to get to the point and discuss the key issues, make sure to focus on your most urgent concerns when at a doctor’s appointment. The good ones will value your candor given the limited time medical practitioners have. 
  • Self-advocate: if you’re not getting the response you need from someone, don’t feel like you’re stuck with it! Seek out a second opinion if you feel you want further reassurance or still have questions. In some cases, it may be best to consult a women’s health professional as well, if you feel the problem is specifically female-related.

In conclusion, recognizing and addressing medical gaslighting is crucial for our overall well-being and the integrity of our healthcare system. It’s time to reclaim our power, trust our instincts, and advocate for ourselves when it comes to our health. Remember, you are not alone in your experiences, and there is strength in seeking support from like-minded individuals and organizations. Together, we can challenge the status quo, raise awareness, and demand a healthcare system that truly listens, respects, and validates our concerns. Let us continue to share our stories, educate others, and create a future where medical gaslighting is no longer tolerated. Your health matters, and your voice deserves to be heard.