Perimenopausal Gaslighting: How Women’s Symptoms Aren’t Taken Seriously by DoctorsDec 22, 2023
What is perimenopause and how common is it?
Perimenopause is an often misunderstood stage of life, and it’s not uncommon for women to be living through perimenopause while having no idea what it actually is. While there’s plenty of unnecessary secrecy, myths and metaphors around perimenopause, we’re here to arm you with the straightforward facts.
Perimenopause is a transitional stage that leads to menopause. Perimenopause usually lasts between 4 and 7 years (although it can last as long as eleven years), and you are considered to be in perimenopause until you've gone 12 months straight without a period. At this point, you've reached menopause, and should not be having any periods for the rest of your life.
Perimenopause usually begins in your 40s, and is a completely natural, inevitable and expected stage of life. Despite plenty of misconceptions around perimenopause, you are likely to see a wide, wide range of symptoms due to the intense hormonal fluctuations you are experiencing. More than hot flashes, perimenopause affects your mental health, sleep, memory, ability to lose weight and more. (For a more comprehensive overview, get our short video course on how to manage perimenopause.)
What is gaslighting / medical gaslighting and does it happen to women in perimenopause?
You might have heard the term gaslighting floating around the internet - it’s very much a hot topic nowadays. The word itself comes from a play and later a film called Gaslight, referring to a manipulation tactic where someone’s experiences are denied and undermined by others, until they begin to doubt their own perceptions.
Theatrical release poster for the 1944 film Gaslight.
While many doctors have our best interest at heart, there is an undeniable phenomenon called ‘medical gaslighting’. Healthcare professionals can dismiss and trivialise women’s symptoms of perimenopause, and even go so far as to incorrectly diagnose them as symptoms of other conditions.
OB/GYN and author Mary Claire Haver writes in The Daily Beast that while she was in medical school,
‘“WW” was the acronym for patients who came in complaining of a cluster of symptoms: weight gain, brain fog, irritability, joint pain, decreased sex drive, poor sleep, and fatigue. These were “whiny women.” … The lucky ones were offered antidepressants as a “cure-all” for their symptoms.’
What are some of the causes of perimenopausal gaslighting?
There are several different factors that make medical gaslighting in perimenopause so common. These include…
- Lack of education. For instance, less than 1 in 5 doctors in the US have received menopause education. In the UK, only 59% of medical schools have mandatory menopause education. This is a huge problem, leading to doctors prescribing poor medication choices. For instance, for women whose mental health has been exacerbated by perimenopause, they might prescribe synthetic HRT: a depressant.
- Societal conditioning. This is not a new phenomenon, and secrecy and dismissal around this stage of life has been handed down generationally. For the longest time, perimenopause was most commonly called “the change”. Awareness, however, is crucial. The most likely time for a woman to commit suicide is between 45 and 49 years old.
- Cultural stigma. Different cultures respond to perimenopause symptoms in healthcare very differently. In the UK, lack of discussion of perimenopause leads many women to not even have the vocabulary to tell their doctors what they are going through. The absence of nuanced discussions about women’s health contribute to this problem in so many insidious ways.
Signs you’re being gaslit about your perimenopause symptoms
It can be very challenging to tell if you’re being gaslit. Some signs include…
- Persistent dismissal of symptoms
- Feeling unheard or patronised during medical consultations
- Your doctor using very vague language to describe your symptoms or answer your questions - as though they’re unclear on the details of perimenopause
- Leaving your doctor’s office feeling confused and dissatisfied
- Being told that your experiences must be exaggerated and “not that bad”
- Being given antidepressants despite not coming in with mental health concerns
- Not being told about the variety of treatment options
- Being told that your symptoms must be “stress-related” or even “just normal aging”
What should you do if you feel like you're experiencing gaslighting?
While it often doesn’t feel like it, you do have some options in this situation to get the help you both need and deserve. Until things change, here’s what I personally recommend.
- Arm yourself with the facts. Come in with a strong understanding of the types of HRT and other treatments available to you, and specifically request these. Volunteer examples of the way your symptoms have negatively impacted your day-to-day life.
- Get it in writing. Ask the doctor to put their response to your symptoms in your notes. This will provide you with a paper trail of your previous attempts to get help, and may even prompt them to reconsider their suggested course of treatment (or lack thereof).
- Get a second opinion - preferably from a specialist in perimenopause, who listens and takes your concerns seriously. They should be able to guide you towards the help you need!
- Find your community. Seek support from in-person or online communities for women’s health.
How can we stop gaslighting in the future - what needs to change
To combat medical gaslighting in perimenopause, systemic changes are imperative. This includes comprehensive education for healthcare professionals on women’s health issues, addressing societal stigmas surrounding menopause, fostering an environment of belief and validation for women’s experiences, and advocating for broader discussions and research on perimenopause.
It’s time to dismantle the barriers that perpetuate this dismissive treatment, fostering an environment where women’s health is acknowledged and respected at every stage of life.
If you want to delve deeper into this topic, check out my TikTok @geetasidhurobb where I talk in detail about managing the signs of perimenopause, or check out my mini video course where I interview a real women’s hormonal health expert on how to talk to doctors to get the help you need.
I also run coaching programmes to support women just like you, as well as regular free webinars.
Book in a call and we’ll walk you through how we can help you get back on your feet.