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History of Gender Bias in Healthcare


The "Rest Cure"

The ‘Rest cure’ was a 19th century treatment for a number of mental health conditions, collectively termed as ‘Hysteria’ back then, and prescribed almost exclusively for women of privileged backgrounds who had the means to avail of the latest treatments available. These women would have, usually, exhibited signs of anxiety, irritability, insomnia, indigestion and even behaviours deemed to be embarrassing or unusual by the society. Pioneered by Silas Weir Mitchell, an American Neurologist, this treatment was the life of the writer and reformer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, for 3 months after having suffered from mental illness. In her short story called ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ she described a semi-fictional account of a woman who upon undergoing the cure, is driven to madness. Click on the interactive bubbles on this image to find out more about how a woman of means would have been treated in 1850s-1950s.

Today, it is very well known that social isolation and lack of exercise have a negative impact on our mental health, and are detrimental to our physical health, being the cause of many ailments. On the other hand, staying mentally active and exercising has been proven to be beneficial for our health in general. A lack of mental engagement, and loneliness is linked to adverse health consequences such as depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life. When a person is bedridden, restricted to one position most of the time, muscles atrophy quickly and the patient is at risk of dehydration. Pressure injuries can also develop, while the heart and the lungs weaken, with blood pooling making the patient susceptible to clotting disorders. We have come a long way from prescribing such cures to women and men, but the sexist attitudes behind these cures remain even to this day.



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