In a sobering indictment of the medical misogyny that pervades our lives – the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has found that a fifth of women report being called ‘dramatic’ when they have sought help for their mental health.
The study – which spoke to 2,000 women about their experiences talking about mental health crises – also found that over a quarter (27%) of respondents had their concerns undermined by being told their issues could be hormonal: 20% were asked at the time if they were on their period.
33% reported being asked if they were “overthinking things”, while 19% of those aged 18-34 admit that they have felt ignored or invisible when speaking up about mental health crisis. Heartbreakingly, 22% feared being viewed as “attention seeking”.
This is unacceptable, and serves as a huge explanation as to why medical misogyny remains so powerful in modern society, if women don’t believe they can be taken seriously when talking about panic attacks and manic depression. It not only clouds the judgment of those who might be able to help, it can also delay sufferers from getting the treatment they need if they don’t feel that they deserve it.
According to CALM’s CEO Simon Gunning, the study shows that “damaging preconceptions are leaving young women unheard and unsupported and lives are at risk like never before.”
A 2022 study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia also found that women are less likely to receive potentially lifesaving medication, increasing their risk of death. The study looked at data from 216,000 trauma patients in England and Wales to assess whether equal treatment was given, and found that women were half as likely to be given tranexamic acid (TXA), which reduces the risk of death from excessive bleeding by up to 30 per cent.
The findings came just months after another study published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery revealed that women are more likely to die after an operation by a male surgeon. Women are also 15% more likely to experience a negative outcome including complications and readmission to hospital when a man performs the procedure, compared to when a woman performs the procedure on a female patient.
The JAMA Surgery study, which assessed 1.3 million patients, and nearly 3,000 surgeons, was co-authored by Dr Angela Jerath, an associate professor and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto in Canada, who commented that the results had “real-world medical consequences for female patients and manifests itself in more complications, readmissions to hospital and death for females compared with males”.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only instance where women have been treated as second class citizens by modern medicine. A few years ago, there was a clinical trial of the male contraceptive injection. The results showed that although the injection had a 98.4% efficacy rate at pregnancy prevention (making it more effective than condoms) the side effects that the men experienced were too severe. These side effects included acne (45%) and mood swings (20%). Um…
Then there’s the research on heart attacks. The majority of data comes from research performed on men due to the fact that women have historically been excluded from clinical trials and biomedical research. Even now, only one third of cardiovascular clinical trial subjects are female. It was only recently (in the past decade) that scientists and doctors realised that women present with different symptoms to men when they’re having a heart attack. This particular gender bias has resulted in women who suffer a heart attack being 50% more likely than men to be given a wrong initial diagnosis and further research has estimated that over ten years, more than 8,000 women in England and Wales could have been saved if they received equal heart attack care to men. Not cool.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the wellness industry has proliferated primarily among women. Many wellness treatments and alternative medicines address issues such as hormonal imbalances, periods and fertility issues. Emma Cannon, a holistic fertility expert, has made it her life mission to unite wellness with modern medicine. “I believe wellness has been allowed to proliferate because people aren’t getting what they need from the health system – and I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to work collaboratively between the two.”
“Patients aren’t getting the help they want partly because medicine is so patriarchal and it takes so long for a practice to become mainstream,” she explains. “I have patients who are going through IVF, and the clinics don’t speak to them about their sex lives. The system sometimes offers nothing unless they’re sure they have a medical solution for it, as in the case of improving couples’ sex lives. But some lifestyle factors have a huge impact on health outcomes, they just haven’t made it into the mainstream yet.”
Emma specialises in uniting modern medicine with a combination of lifestyle, diet and emotional advice to provide her patients with a holistic treatment program. “I’m the first to say if someone needs to see a doctor, but I’m also the first to offer them diet, emotional and environmental advice. If you come to see me, you might walk out with a referral to a surgeon, a shaman, or anything in between.”
Then there’s the rise in Fem Tech – the technology-based treatments developed specifically to cater to women’s health concerns, including treatment for pelvic floor prolapse with devices such as Elvie, and a hormone free contraceptive app, Natural Cycles. The latter was a result of years of dissatisfaction with the options available to women.
“I made a personal decision to stop using hormonal contraceptives, but couldn’t find an adequate alternative,” said Natural Cycles founder Dr Elina Berglund. “I did some research and found out that you can accurately predict ovulation through body temperature, and so could calculate when you’re fertile and when you’re not.” Using her knowledge of statistical mathematics from her experience as a particle physicist, Dr Berglund created an algorithm that could predict her ovulation – and things took off from there. “At first, it was just meant for me to use. But I quickly realised that there was a wider need from my female friends and colleagues. Together with my husband, who is also a physicist, we turned the algorithm into an app so more people could benefit.” Natural Cycles now has hundreds of thousands of users across 200 countries.
However, while the increasing evidence to support alternative and complimentary treatment options can only be welcomed, there’s also a darker side of wellness that if followed in isolation would be just as harmful, if not considerably more so, than a patriarchal medical system. “A lot of what is being tooted as wellness is actually illness. Some of the people on Instagram who have the most followers are some of the unhealthiest people I’ve ever met,” says Emma. “I believe somewhere in the middle lies the truth, the happy balance that is both preventative and curative.”
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