Healthcare system leaves women to suffer in the shadows

A new study by the Universities of Newcastle, Manchester and York exposes how women still feel 'brushed off' and not listened to by the healthcare system.

Cc Lee
4th March 2022
Credits: Wikimedia Commons
A new study has been conducted by the Universities of Newcastle, Manchester and York on women’s experiences related to their health needs. Not only did the research concluded that women are being side-lined by GP practises and hospitals, but services for mental health are not equally shared as women’s concerns are treated as irrelevant.

Menstruation issues can be so serious that they can have additional physical effects on the person as well as emotional effects. Many times work places don’t give time off for these issues or are not treated seriously. Many people have expressed concerns about even going to their GP, as they don’t feel comfortable sharing information in the fear of being ignored or seen as “dramatic”. Not only does this cause stress and anxiety during already stressful times but it can also impact younger people who are just going through puberty. The issue here is that menstruation is not taken as serious as a physical injury: the two are clearly different but the pain inflicted by menstruation can be destabilising and the sooner women are taken seriously about it the more inclusive the health system will become.

The summary of recruitment of the study - Women aged 18-65 took part in the study, showing that women are not listened to regardless of their age - Credits: University of York

Many women, in particular, do not feel listened to during pregnancy. The phrase "but you're only pregnant" comes too often to mind as women are expected to not complain about issue they encounter during this incredibly difficult transformation. Often, society perpetuates the idea that pregnancy is this extremely beautiful and amazing thing, but this sugar coated narrative rejects the stories of those who suffer major challenges while pregnant. In this country, women are very much expected to carry on as usual if they experience challenges in their pregnancy. This is extremely overwhelming, for example, when someone has experienced a miscarriage. In the UK it is very unlikely that women get guaranteed time off after having a miscarriage in order for them to grieve the loss of their unborn baby. This shows how much our poor health system impacts peoples livelihoods and shows the disparaging lack of support that is available to women.

The amount of women who have been turned away by GPs in regard to their pregnancies and mental health related issues is shocking. If someone is suffering from an eating disorder this does not only signify a threat for the their health but it can also put stress on the pregnancy. The fact that doctors have turned away suffering women and noted it down as “a phase" or “hysteria” proves that women’s mental health as well as their physical health during pregnancy is side-lined.

In the UK it is very unlikely that women get guaranteed time off after having a miscarriage in order for them to grieve the loss of their unborn baby

Many women have traumatic child births, and more often than not male doctors dismiss their pain and assume that their “hysteria” is related to the birth itself. Most women have been denied an epidural or c-section and told to wait it out – despite the women knowing full well the process that their own body is going through. The BAME community is disproportionally affected by this issue and treated even more with an eye roll. Many black women not only have to worry about the aforementioned issues but, during childbirth, they also have the added pressure of racism to deal with. More black women will die in child birth compared to white women, due to the ‘unconscious bias' that doctors (as well as everyone else) have.

Additionally, many women feel dehumanised in childbirth experiencing many people saying that “as long as the baby is alright and healthy, that’s all that matters.” This leaves the question for women, “Don’t I matter in this scenario or is it just the health of a new baby that does?”

Despite the media and press talking more ‘openly’ about the strain of menopause, this still hasn’t changed the reception women receive when they go to the doctors to raise concerns. Many retired women are viewed as care givers for their partners and this then translates into the idea that they can fix their physical issues by themselves. Not only is this damaging, but this continues the narrative that their (more often than not) male counterpart's health is more important or deemed more serious than their own. Menopause is usually portrayed as nature's natural discourse, something that is to be expected and accepted. However, this ignores the hardships and the damaging effects it can have on women’s bodies and their mental health, corroborating with the study that a new system needs to be implemented in order to prioritise women’s needs.

Will the study change everything immediately? No, no it won’t. Will it move the way women’s health is viewed by health professionals? I really hope so. These issues aren’t surfacing just because Universities are conducting new studies – these issues are as old as patriarchy and stem back to abortions and contraception rights.

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