Stop the patient blaming!
In the very same week, I ran across two articles. Both were slideshow lists of poor lifestyle choices commonly made by patients with fibromyalgia and migraine. They were titled “5 don’ts of fibromyalgia” and “8 mistakes people with migraines make.” It’s not that these recommendations are not accurate. The problem is that the titles of both articles imply that patients who don’t get better have only themselves to blame. It’s called “patient blaming” and is becoming an all too common occurrence in our culture. It’s one thing to educate patients about how their lifestyle choices affect their symptoms. It’s quite another to lecture them about all the ways they can (and do) screw up.
I can. You can’t.
To make matters worse, the suggestions to chronically ill patients are often no different than those offered to everyone as general tips for wellness. There are countless “healthy” people who engage in these bad habits. They don’t have widespread pain, extreme fatigue, or debilitating migraine attacks. It is disingenuous to sit in judgement of sick patients while engaging in the very same behaviors. This attitude is hypocritical at best and abusive at worst.
Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.
There is a second glaring problem with these lists. Many doctors don’t even know how to properly diagnose or treat either one of these conditions. Some don’t even believe they are real! Who are they to lecture patients about lifestyle choices? Many patients believe that neither of these conditions can be helped by medical treatment, so they don’t even bother reporting symptoms to their doctors. I’m not suggesting that doctors shouldn’t ever make suggestions about lifestyle choices. I am insisting that only those qualified to diagnose and treat these conditions have any business giving lifestyle advice to patients.
Journalists and editors have a professional and moral responsibility to accurately report the truth. All too often the desire for ratings compels them to create sensational headlines that distort the facts instead. As is the case with both of the aforementioned articles, ratings are bought and paid for through public shaming of the very people they claim to be helping. The articles could have just as easily be been titled, “5 Essentials for Fibromyalgia” and “8 Things Every Migraine Patient Needs to Know”. The more positive version of these headlines would have caught my attention without making me feel like I was failing as a patient.
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