From Nursing In Practice.
Health professionals should be made aware that ME/CFS is not a psychological illness and in order to improve patient care, nurses need to better understand this illness and its impact on patients.
Nurses often witness close-up the impact of acute and chronic illness on patients. Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is one illness that nurses may encounter that causes profound life changes for many sufferers. This controversial illness is sometimes presented as a psychosomatic disorder that requires psychological treatment. However, there is no compelling evidence that ME/CFS is a mental health condition and increasing evidence shows it is a biological disease with a range of complex symptoms. This article discusses how the ‘all in the mind’ myth of ME/CFS has permeated both medical discourse and popular culture, with negative consequences for patients living with this poorly understood condition.
1. Is ME/CFS really a mental illness?
In a recent Nursing in Practice article, Roberts (2016)1 suggests that ME/CFS is a psychosomatic disorder, best treated with psychotherapy and mindfulness. The erroneous idea that mindfulness is an optimum treatment masks a hidden and more important story; that very little is understood about ME/CFS and many health professionals are skeptical about whether ME/CFS is even a real illness. For example, NICE guidelines do not mention mindfulness.2 A GP once exclaimed to me that ‘all these patients need is anti-depressants and a good pair of running shoes’. While discussing my ME/CFS research at a hospital in Leicester a nurse offered me a similar opinion by suggesting that ‘ME/CFS patients would get out of bed if you paid them £5000 per day’. Such negative views among doctors and nurses are not uncommon and are perhaps fueled by misinformation about the illness being psychological.