To the Doctor Who Didn't Believe My Mental Illness Is a Result of Crohn's
Just today I visited a new gastroenterology clinic, trying to find some answers and solutions to the flare I’ve been in since being diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease two years ago. I have never improved – only gotten worse. So here I was, at my fifth clinic, asking another doctor for another opinion about why things (or, more specifically, the multiple medications I have tried) weren’t working.
The doctor, in his late 40s/early 50s and highly regarded in the gastroenterology field, discussed some alternate therapies and medications with me, before asking about my general health and well-being. I was honest; I told him that since being diagnosed, I had developed severe depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, as well as some PTSD from traumatic hospitalizations and procedures. I told him that I was currently under the care of a psychiatrist and taking several medications to treat these mental illnesses.
The doctor looked at me, and asked something that made my blood boil: “But you may have experienced some of these mental illnesses before diagnosis, right? Especially the anxiety?” He turned to my mother, also present. “So many young women have issues like that, especially with anxiety,” he said.
I could barely contain my rage. The answer? No. I had not had these “issues” before my diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. My mental illnesses are a direct result of the trauma(s) I went through during my diagnosis and the process of trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll be sick for the rest of my life. Would anxiety or depression have cropped up at some point in my life if I were currently a physically healthy individual? Perhaps, but that’s not the point. The point is that my mental illnesses were triggered by the trauma of hospitalizations, debilitating symptoms and the heavy storm cloud of a lifelong illness.
I also had to ask myself: Would this doctor have asked a male patient this? I must lean towards no. In the two years that I’ve lived as a chronically ill female patient, I’ve experienced a lot of condescending and dismissive behavior from doctors, nurses and technicians alike – and a lot of that comes from statements like, “Well…young women…you know.” As a matter of fact, as a young woman, I do know.
As a chronically ill young woman, I know that my mental illnesses are just as valid as my physical one. I know that they are a direct result of traumatic events I’ve experienced due to my physical chronic illness. And, most of all, I know that this condescending sexism towards female patients in the medical field needs to stop. I want to be listened to, respected and treated equally when I’m sitting on the exam table. I deserve nothing less, and neither do the thousands of other chronically ill women.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via tetmc.