Because criticism does wonders for depression

Megan writes…

I was home for college a few years ago and went to an internist who I had never met before for treatment of UTI [urinary tract infection]. Having dealt with eating and body issues for several years, the thought of getting on the scale at an unfamiliar doctor’s office terrified me, but the pain of the UTI gave me little choice.

The doctor there, upon noting that I was on an anti-depressant, callously asked me, “Well, what are you depressed about?” I could only assume he had skipped the mental health course in med school or didn’t believe in such feel-good terms as “chemical imbalance.” Not having the convenient answer he was looking for, I quickly explained that I had been dealing with depression and anxiety since I was 13 years old.

He then prescribed me an antibiotic without performing any tests, and apparently decided it was a good time to have a really deep connection with me. He looked at my weight, which was all of 140 lbs and asked if I exercised. I didn’t have the energy at this point to get into the 6-mile daily runs, the obsessive tracking of calories burned, the self-hatred when I skipped a workout. I knew what was coming, I froze, and mumbled a quiet “yes.”

And then he said the line that still haunts me to this day: “Because you are pretty husky. I mean, you have a great figure, but you could lose some weight.

Ashamed and confused (was “great figure” a medical term?”), I made my way as quickly as possible out of his office, dissolved into tears, and spent weeks trying to not base my self-worth on one man’s 2-second assessment of my body.

I still wonder what so-called health professional, upon seeing a teenage girl with admitted problems with depression, feels he is doing her a service by throwing around terms like “husky,” making judgments about her body, and being completely oblivious to the the body issues that nearly every woman in this country struggles with on a daily basis. From what I’m seeing on your site, its all too common an occurrence.

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  1. Holy God. I have to believe that a doctor like that will eventually get brought up on sexual harassment charges. “A great figure?” Stories like this are exactly why fat people like me put off going to the doctor until we absolutely cannot avoid it. And I’m sure that has no effect on my health whatsoever.

    Thanks for having the courage to share this story. I think every post on this site should be required reading in med schools across the world.

  2. DivaJean

     /  December 20, 2007

    THIS is why large people avoid health care like the plague. A young woman went in for something unrelated to weight and ended up preached to about how important a “great figure” is. Her history of depression was not even put into context or seemingly cared about.

    What a prick that doctor is!

  3. God. When will doctors realise that depressed doesn’t mean either

    a) too fat to be happy
    b) too unhappy to stop eating.

    I had a similar experience with seeking treatment for my own depression.

  4. DivaJean

     /  December 21, 2007

    Thankfully, my depression hit its zenith when I had several situational things I could point to. But now I know I am always depressed- but my meds kep it in check.

  5. Bastard.

    You should write a letter to that idiot. Even if you never send it.

  6. sweetmachine

     /  December 21, 2007

    That is outrageous! No doctor should be commenting on his/her patient’s “figures” for any reason. I’m sorry you had that experience.

  7. 140 lbs is not even close to husky! What a jerk!

  8. fillyjonk

     /  December 21, 2007

    hez, I don’t think that’s quite the idea. He’s not a jerk because 140 lbs isn’t husky, he’s a jerk because it is never appropriate to comment that your PATIENT “has a great figure” if she lost some weight.

  9. The comment from a health professional that has haunted me for years was when I was at the family doctor while I was in high school. This doctor and his staff had been treating me since I’d been about 11, and had prescribed anti-depressants for me, so they knew I had problems with depression. They also prescribed some amphetamine-based appetite suppressant that made me feel like every single muscle fiber and nerve ending was individually shaking all the time. After several months of arguing, I’d finally managed to convince my mother than feeling awful like that ALL the time actually HAD to be worse than not having a suppressed appetite.

    So when I went back to the doctors office and told them I didn’t want the appetite suppressant any longer, the nurse looked at me – I was maybe 16 or 17 at the time and about 180 lbs – and says “Well, *maybe* there’s some guy out there who’ll want a 200-pound wife, but you probably don’t want to make too many plans.”

    Of course, she turned out to be wrong (though it did take awhile – but the wait was more than worthwhile – I’ve been VERY blessed with my husband!) but at that age, when I was already depressed, that was NOT in the least bit a helpful thing to say.

  10. Kriselda: Not to date you or anything, I’m interested in knowing what years it was you were prescribed this medication. Was it relatively recent ?

  11. I hate the link that doctors and supposedly qualified medical personnel make between fat and depression. I have both but they are not connected. I think there is the underlying assumption that if a woman is fat and on antidepressants it’s because she is fat, rather than because she it depressed.

    Casually asking why a person is depressed is incredibly invasive. Any person, doctor or no, who asks me that should expect either sarcasm or a broken nose.


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