Stigma and taboos influence healthcare

Stigma and taboos influence healthcare, evident in how patients address problems such as obesity, Overactive Bladder (OAB), and abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB).

The discussion around obesity can be highly charged, especially given that almost half of all Americans can be classified as obese.  And the percentage is growing rapidly.  Obesity is an epidemic in the US.

There is a valid argument for great acceptance of the problem in society.  Voices argue against discussion of obesity as a health problem, calling it “fat shaming.” And we do see examples where the medical community blames patients for problems related to BMI.  Others speak about the link between weight and various health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, mental health concerns, respiratory problems, and sleep disorders. This raises the question of the appropriate way to approach such sensitive topics.

While talking about sensitive topics can be difficult, it is necessary.  However, we have to go beyond discomfort.  We’ve faced similar challenges with conditions like HIV, depression, erectile dysfunction, and alcoholism.  We needed to confront the stigmas and taboos to enable progress in treatment.

Alcoholism Is An Early Example

Alcoholism is an early example of stigmas and taboos related to the treatment of a disease.  Before 1956, the disease was not even recognized as a medical condition by most doctors.  Many considered alcoholics “degenerates and/or feeble-minded.”  There was a strong stigma associated with the disease.  Alcoholics were relegated to asylums, prisons or left to live on the street.  Millions suffered before the disease was classified as a disease, alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) and treatment programs were offered.

Conditions That face Similar Challenges

Overactive Bladder (OAB) and abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) have challenges that are similar to alcoholism. Patient feedback reveals potential disconnects, with dismissive responses from healthcare professionals.   One patient recalled talking with her doctor about OAB.  The urologist told her to “just get over it.  This happens when you get older.”   In another case, a woman talking with her doctor about AUB was told “you are being hysterical.  This is part of being a woman.”  Unfortunately, over 40% of women accept that there is no good treatment for AUB.  This is not true.

It’s crucial for patients to assert themselves against negative societal attitudes and healthcare dismissals. The time has come to destigmatize these conditions, empowering patients to openly discuss them. In doing so, patients become instrumental in achieving optimal health outcomes and dismantling barriers that have impeded open conversations about health issues for too long.  Our research approach helps clients to understand the challenges that patients face and how they can help them to overcome these challenges.