Thanks to more conversations about toxicity, the concept of gaslighting is one that many people are familiar with by now. The phrase “medical gaslighting” on the other hand, is not as common, but it has been impacting people’s lives for years. Gaslighting happens when a person is tricked into thinking that their reality is invalid. Because Black women tend to be more susceptible to medical gaslighting, it is important to know how to address. Here are some strategies that can help.

Listen To Your Gut First

It can be tricky to spot medical gaslighting, but the most obvious sign shows up when you share a concern with your medical provider. If your medical provider listens with empathy and understanding while trying to address your fears, then there are chances that they have your best interest at heart. On the other hand, if they are dismissive and minimizing, then that is a red flag. Many times, the gut has a way of warning us of impending danger, and if you feel like something is off, then there is a high chance that you are right.

Boldly Ask Questions

When medical gaslighting is happening, it can feel intimidating to stand up for yourself and keep asking questions. The first inclination might be to quiet down and not say anything, but your body and health are important. Even though it may seem hard to ask medical questions that affect you, especially when you are not feeling heard or seen, do it any way.

Seriously Consider Race

In a statement to CNBC, Stacey E. Rosen, a senior vice president for Northwell Health’s Katz Institute for Women’s Health said that in health care, medical gaslighting is a common and often targeted towards  marginalized women. In spite of what a larger part of society tries to portray, race matters and colors the experiences of many people.

Consider A Black Doctor

The pervasive dismissal of Black women’s health issues as well as the general carelessness that is given to Black women in the medical world, it is important to consider a second or third opinion. While exploring these options, consider a Black medical professional. According to an NPR report, doctors can still bring unconscious racial bias to the workplace, and this can alter the way that they treat patients. By opting for a doctor who shares your race, this risk is significantly eliminated.

Photo of black doctor
Photo Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko

If Pregnant, Consult a Black Doula

Black doulas are doing an amazing job of advocating for Black maternal healthcare. In the past few years, black doulas have become a force in the medical world and their work with Black birthing mothers have made many women feel seen, heard, validated and understood. Venturing into pregnancy without any medical guidance as a Black woman can seem lonely, isolating and scary and the right doula can serve as a much needed anchor of knowledge and support.

Pregnant Black woman
Photo Credit: cottonbro

Stay Persistent

Self-advocacy can become a draining and arduous process in issues like medical gaslighting, but it is worth the fight. Too often, it can become easy to throw in the towel and resign yourself to your fate, but that is not helpful and may leave you feeling worse. If you feel as though your concerns are getting swept under the rug, say it. Persistence is another way to get results, and although it often doesn’t work, it is worth the effort. At the end of the day, you will feel proud of yourself for sticking up for yourself  and having your own back in spite of the outcome.

Know When to Speak Up

Many Black women do not know when to walk away from a bad medical care situation. Historically, we have been taught that the medical system is without flaws, and always has our best interests at heart, but scientifically that has been proven to be false. As someone who experienced racism in healthcare as well as medical gaslighting, it took me a long time to speak up, but when I did, I felt liberated. It was only by speaking up that I realized that many Black women like me had gone through the same thing. Our stories can only be as loud as we make them, and you may never know whose life you are saving or whose thoughts you are validating if you don’t tell your story. Know when to speak up.