Gender bias in healthcare has been a hot topic for a while now. In case you don’t agree with that statement just take a look at the collage of images above. When I searched nurse the majority of the images were women, but when I searched doctor the majority of images were men. However, gender bias in healthcare has much more dangerous effects than the symbolism of these photos. A few including cardiovascular disease, mental health, and pain management.
People only normally think of healthcare when it affects them, when they are sick or injured. But there are people whose lives intertwine with healthcare every day. They can be influenced by the construct of gender in a number of ways and the consequences can literally be life ending. Why aren’t we bringing up the fact that heart attack is the leading killer of women in the United States? Or that the true killer could also be gender bias and societal implications that we have the agency to change? Because doctors are trained to look at heart attacks within a certain set of symptoms that reflect the symptoms generally felt by men. This causes misdiagnoses when women are seeking help for their heart attack symptoms.
Or what about mental health? This past year especially, has been tough on the mental health of everyone due to Covid-19. Findings from the Mental Health America Organization show that there has been an increase of .5% of youth in the U.S with severe major depression, and a 93% increase in people with anxiety since 2019. Not to mention that ever since the pandemic began in March 2020, over 178,000 people have said they have frequent suicidal ideation and 37% said they have thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.
Given the rising numbers of mental health issues, it is of even greater importance to acknowledge the disparities between men and women due to gender stereotypes and expectations. Although the rates of depression are similar between men and women, women are more likely to receive treatment for depression. These situations can lead to overtreatment as well as dismissal of other health care concerns. Therefore, gender discussion should be discussed not only by lay people (people who are not healthcare professionals) but also become a part of the course load for health care professionals to ensure that patients are given the appropriate treatment.
Pain and Research management in 2018 has shown that although women dominate most diagnoses, they still feel that their pain was not taken seriously in the beginning. There are several chronic pain conditions that have no direct treatments and most exclusively affect women such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis. The lack of research done on these conditions reflect the dismissal of women’s pain in society. The only way to begin to fix the effects of gender on healthcare regarding cardiovascular disease, mental health, and pain management is threefold. To continue to have discussions about these topics, to implement it early into education systems, and to require healthcare professionals to take courses regarding sex, gender, and race.