Hysterical Women of the Fortnight: 2 June

This weekend’s women’s health update from the last two weeks

This week saw the tenth anniversary of the murder of Dr George Tiller, an American abortion provider who was killed for doing his job. To mark the anniversary I spoke to his former colleague Julie Burkhart, who founded the Trust Women clinic in his memory to continue providing reproductive healthcare and campaign for reproductive rights across the US. We spoke about his legacy as a ‘woman-educated doctor’, and why trusting women is so important and fundamental to reproductive healthcare – as well, of course, as discussing the current status of abortion rights across the US.

The anniversary of Dr Tiller’s death has coincided with some pretty alarming scaling back of abortion rights in certain parts of the US, while closer to home there continues to be very little movement on Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws. Just this week, Planned Parenthood declared a ‘state of emergency’ for women’s health in the US, after six states passed so-called ‘heartbeat’ bills.

As Bryony Gordon wrote in The Telegraph a couple of weeks ago: “I am mystified by these humans who claim to want to honour life, only for them to disregard it once it has been born female.”


Beyond abortion rights, here’s our roundup of news and views on women’s health since before the bank holiday…

‘Sexist’ research means drugs more tailored to men, says scientist

It’s not exactly news, but there’s been yet more discussion this week about the sexism that exists in drug development and trials. As The Guardian reports, neuroscientist Rebecca Shansky recently wrote in the journal Science that, while male bias is seen across all fields of preclinical research, one of the starkest areas is neuroscience, in which male animals outnumber females by nearly six to one. The article continues:

She is also concerned by the approach taken by some research teams in the US to incorporate both sexes into experiments by working things out in males first and then repeating in females. “It perpetuates the dated, sexist, and scientifically inaccurate idea that male brains are a standard from which female brains deviate,” she said.


‘Doctors gave me antidepressants – it took four years for my low mood and brain fog to be diagnosed as the menopause’

Katie Taylor, who previously blogged for Hysterical Women about her experiences of being dismissed with menopausal symptoms, was also featured in The i this week. “I don’t blame the GPs, they only have 10 minutes to chat to a patient,” she told The i. “But there does need to be better education for them so they can recognise the signs. Women need to educated too so they can take control of their health.”

Related: Doctors gave me anti-depressants – until my daughter diagnosed the menopause (The Telegraph)


Neurological conditions in women are often misdiagnosed, mishandled and misunderstood

Holly Baxter wrote a brilliant long read for The Independent this week about the sexism facing women with neurological conditions. It’s well worth reading in its entirety for the case studies, but here’s an extract:

Maria-Teresa Feretti, who is the chief scientific officer at the Women’s Brain Project and works to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, told me that most women she works with who have neurological disorders are told they have mental health problems instead. It’s become such an entrenched problem in her line of work that the Brain Project is dedicating an entire panel at its annual forum to it. She compared this dismissal of symptoms to the dismissal of migraine – which is a condition more common among women than men – as “just a headache” in the medical community


Woman eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease was sectioned for months and told her symptoms were ‘all in her head’

The i last week featured the story of 53-year-old Angela Bean, a woman who was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and “pumped with anti-psychotics” while actually suffering with Lyme disease:

The 53-year-old says NHS doctors told her her symptoms were imagined. She says feeling so ill and not being believed for so long caused her to attempt suicide while in hospital.

She was then sectioned and diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder (SSD), a mental illness when people show excessive distress about their health.


I know antidepressant withdrawal symptoms are real. Why didn’t doctors?

This isn’t a female-specific issue, but Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett wrote for The Guardian this week about The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ new position on antidepressant withdrawal. We’ve got a Hysterical Women guest post coming up in the next few weeks on this very issue and, as Rhiannon writes, patients like this particular guest blogger will no doubt feel some relief to “see before you, written down in black and white, what you have known to be true for a long time: in this case, that antidepressant withdrawal symptoms aren’t, well, all in your head.”


The NHS Missed My Cancer And No One Has To Pay Except Me

I publish these kinds of stories week in week out – yet another awful gynaecological cancer misdiagnosis – but they never get any less horrifying. Jean Hatchet writes on Medium:

I remember texting a friend and saying how uncomfortable with this I was, how I felt odd and didn’t trust a man to do this. I really had no choice though. I went through the scan which was painful and made me cry out. My gut instinct was right. He didn’t do his job properly and he failed me.

This man reported my scan as normal. No cause for concern. I was given some medication for irritable bowel syndrome. I continued to have pain and the drugs made no difference. I worried it was all in my head.

I saw my oncologist who said she had some difficult news. “You aren’t going to like this.”She said the scan of November had been reported incorrectly. The sonographer had not spotted the cancer that was already there. This cancer was already growing and had continued growing. That was why my pain had continued. I was quiet for a while. I thanked her.


And finally…

Bustle UK profiled Amelia Butlin’s (@cantgoout_imsick) Instagram account about chronic illness – which I’m personally a really big fan of – and her #BelieveUs illustrations, which help to highlight the way women’s chronic pain is so routinely disbelieved and dismissed:

By starting her illustration project, Butlin has realised she is not alone in feeling this way. One woman, whose story is shared in a caption under the title ‘Believe Rose,’ said: “I have been misdiagnosed and written off as crazy too many times to count. I was sent to a locked eating disorder unit when I was 17 because my doctors assumed I just didn’t want to eat. In reality I was in excruciating pain and vomiting every time I ate. I was told it was bulimia, anorexia, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic pain, all before they would admit they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and it’s not in my head. My pain is real. My dislocations are real. My vomiting and nausea are real. It is all real.”

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