Bad Medical Advice: Dear Doctor, Stop It!

We asked you about some instances of receiving bad medical advice because of your gender, and oh boy! Did you all come through!

Medicine, like most other professional fields, reeks of misogyny and heteronormativity – especially in India, where the winds of a profound gender revolution haven’t quite found their place. Medical professionals,  but especially OB-GYNs, use pseudoscience and misogyny to cook up a prescription that doesn’t solve any of your existing problems.

One of the most misunderstood disorders in India is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Duru Shah, the founder of the PCOS Society of India says that PCOS is not a disease, but a condition that presents itself in different ways. It is a lifelong condition that can only be controlled, not eliminated. According to The Hindu, 20% of Indian women suffer from PCOS. Yet, medical professionals, like the ones in the testimonies Gaysi received, repeatedly correlate this hormonal disorder to “excess weight.” The solution, no matter what the diagnosis is, is always “lose weight”.

If the fatphobia isn’t concerning enough, another stereotypical Indian OB-GYN response we picked up from your responses is sex-shaming, or rather ‘penetration-shaming’. If women got a dollar for every time they have been denied sonography, pap smear, HIV/STD screening because they are ‘unmarried’ (codeword for ‘not “broken into” yet, as they clearly have not had sex because… they are unmarried’) – they would have enough to relocate to a country with less judgmental gynaecologists.

And on the topic of potential sexual activity being revealed in a medical context, we also received a few responses from women who were told that their sexual activity was the root of all their problems, be it psychological or physical. Most medical consultations are oriented towards socialising young women into believing that marriage is the end-all and be-all of a woman’s life, and that sex is a given, and only appropriate within that context. We received a few responses from women who were told that their acne issues would go away once they got married, i.e. once they were having sex in the appropriate context. Wonder where that leaves the rest of us “sluts” with equally annoying hormonal acne who are banging for more than the skincare benefits.

Based on the responses we received, OB-GYNs don’t seem to be the only unprofessional doctors, but psychologists and psychiatrists also seem to be part of the problem. To no one’s surprise, anxiety and depression are not treated as serious medical concerns. According to the National Library of Medicine, depressive symptoms were present in 18.5% of young adults, anxiety in 24.4%, and stress in 20%. Clinical depression was present in 12.1% and generalized anxiety disorder in 19.0%. Comorbid anxiety and depression were high, with about 87% of those having depression also suffering from anxiety disorder. Instead of viewing anxiety, depression and stress as being of public health significance and dissecting the heart of these disorders, mental health professionals treat these concerns as lifestyle problems that require eating healthy, waking early and – our personal favourite – praying.

Another angle to this is the apparent callousness of professionals when it comes to ethics and privacy – we received a couple of responses about mental health professionals revealing information to the patients’ families intentionally. Most young adults, including several of our respondents, are afraid to approach psychologists via their guardians for this reason. The reportage ranges from informing parents about their ward’s self-destructive habits to intimate details of their lives. Legally and according to medical ethics, any release of information cannot take place without the client’s explicit consent. However, these doctors pay little care to ethical guidelines that are fundamental to responsible psychiatric practice. It also perhaps speaks to a larger cultural issue around the idea of privacy in India, and especially women’s privacy, in relation to the family and obligations to them. Whatever the case may be, snitches are only cute in Harry Potter, not in real life.

Lastly, we also received a couple of responses from women with ADHD and autism about the resistance from their doctors to diagnose them. For long, medical culture and research has been produced based on results obtained from a particular section of society – mostly white, mostly male. Because of years of exclusion, we have ended up with a healthcare industry that is made by men for men, that doesn’t really take into account how societal and cultural convention might affect how women and girls present their symptoms. This has translated to women very commonly being misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all – either because their behaviours line up with conventional neurotypical behaviour due to ‘masking’ or because professionals tend to chalk these behaviours down to self-esteem issues.

Women’s health is rarely taken seriously because women generally aren’t either – that much is clear from the responses we’ve received. While a sex-positive, non-judgmental society is a far-fetched dream, professionalism – especially in a sector that requires people be vulnerable – shouldn’t be so. From anxiety to PCOS – our respondents took us on a wild ride that was shocking, but not surprising. The takeaway here is, that there is a pressing need for rediscovering ethics, professionalism, diversity and empathy in medical practice in India.

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