Blog: Are women being labelled as mentally ill when in fact the cause of their symptoms is potentially more deadly?

Thursday 2 March 2017

Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Beccy Shortt, discusses the journey many women face to being correctly diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Gender bias or good old fashioned sexism may be playing a worrying part in delayed brain tumour diagnosis. Research by The Brain Tumour Charity shows that girls and women experience greater delay in getting diagnosed with a brain tumour than their male counterparts. The symptoms of brain tumours can be vague, including cognitive effects which are also indicative of other conditions such as mental health problems, hormone imbalances and stress. Many women have told us that symptoms were put down to stress or the ubiquitous 'women's problems' by GP's. Particularly disturbing was the story of one women whose seizures were misdiagnosed as panic attacks.

Numerous studies have shown that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and have an increased likelihood of being diagnosed psychotropic medications. Each of these offer different hypothesise as to why this might be, these range from men exhibiting different 'symptomology' right through to the historical context of women as irrational, hysterical and slaves to their hormones.

Women do attend the GP more readily and as such it would appear their brain tumour symptoms are being diagnosed as more common conditions. Does this in fact represent an institutional presumption of mental health issues in women? It certainly demonstrates a worrying trend.

Women with a brain tumour are also at a slightly greater risk of diagnosis after an emergency admission. Survival for patients diagnosed with a high grade brain tumour through emergency presentation is significantly worse than for patients presenting through all other routes. Only 28% of people diagnosed through this route are still alive one year following diagnosis, compared to 38% diagnosed through an urgent '2 week wait' GP referral. 115% more women died of a brain tumour than cervical cancer in 2015 and yet GP's just aren't picking up on the symptoms.

Hysteria though no longer a recognised psychiatric condition, is a legacy which continues to effect the medical treatment of women.

This presumption of mental imbalance and frailty in women could literally be killing us.

If you have had a similar experience please do share your story so that we can help change this.