Why We Need to Talk About Medical Trauma in Mental Health
Medical trauma is an underrepresented form of trauma that happens all too often to people with mental health conditions.1 For example, when I was 19, I sought treatment for mental health issues, and the reactions I got from doctors left a psychological wound that still affects me today.
What Is Medical Trauma in the Mental Health Field?
Medical trauma can take many forms, from a traumatic surgery to a traumatic interpersonal experience with a doctor, but in the mental health field, medical trauma may take the form of invalidation.2
Too often, people with mental health conditions are told they "just" have a mental health condition, as if it is somehow less valid or less of a problem because their illness isn't physical. Worse yet, some doctors brush off patients with mental health concerns if they can't find anything wrong physically.
This was the case for me. When I was 19, my mental health fell apart. I was anxious, depressed, angry, and exhausted. I was struggling to function, and I knew I needed help. But when I tried to seek that help, all I found was invalidation. Every single doctor that I saw said I was just stressed, just needed to take it easy, or maybe take some vitamin D.
To some, this might not seem like trauma, but trauma is less about the thing that happens and more about how our brains react to it. Because I was in such a fragile state when I sought help, and because I didn't receive the help I needed, my brain felt unsafe and reacted with a trauma response.
How Medical Trauma Affects Mental Health
Because I was met with so many doctors who invalidated me, I started to doubt myself. I no longer felt like I could trust my own perceptions about my body or my mind, and that has stuck with me. I still struggle to believe that my symptoms of mental illness are real and deserving of help, and worse than that, I struggle to see myself as trustworthy. I automatically see others as the expert on me, rather than believing in myself.
This has led to codependency, low self-worth, and a general feeling that I am wrong, all the time.
Recovering from Medical Trauma
Honestly, I'm still at the beginning of my recovery journey when it comes to my medical trauma. It's just within the last month or two that I've finally admitted to myself that my initial foray into mental health care was traumatic, so I don't know everything about healing from medical trauma.
Here's what I do know: I am the expert on me. I know myself better than anyone else, and it's safe to trust myself. This is a mantra I tell myself any time I feel invalidated or unsure, which is most of the time. At first, I didn't believe it at all, but I kept up with it, and now I am slowly but surely starting to believe this mantra.
How has medical trauma in the mental health field affected you? Share your stories in the comments.
- Card, M., "Medical Trauma from My Doctors' Dismissal of My Symptoms." HealthyPlace, June 9, 2020.
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, "What Is Medical Trauma?" Accessed December 3, 2020.
Griffith, M. (2020, December 1). Why We Need to Talk About Medical Trauma in Mental Health, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2020/12/why-we-need-to-talk-about-medical-trauma-in-mental-health
Author: Megan Griffith
Where do l begin, so so much trauma at the hands of doctors. Before my diagnosis, as a child, l was sexually assulted by an orthopedic surgeon, here in Melbourne. I have congenital scoliosis with Harrington rods. At a later appointment he caused me extreme pain by forcing his thumbs into a part of my spine that I'd said was painful. It was the most extreme pain I've experienced and I've had 3 children since. So much for trusting Doctors.
Michelle, I'm so sorry you've experienced so much trauma at the hands of doctors. Medical trauma is so under-discussed, but it's a real problem for so many of us. I hope HealthyPlace is helping you find ways to cope and heal.
This is such a valid point and one that is vitally important for people to recognize: "I no longer felt like I could trust my own perceptions about my body or my mind". This can be incredibly disempowering and it happens more often than we think. I am so glad you are on your journey and able to share it with others. Yahoo for your brilliant mantra! Keep with it.
Thank you so much for your words of encouragement Lizanne! I appreciate them so much.