I wrote the Telegraph a letter on Monday in response to Max Pemberton’s article on the issue of mental health stigma in ME (my blog response is here). You can find what they printed by following the above link, and scrolling down until you see “ME and mental health”. Alternatively, you can read what I wrote here. The gist of what I wrote did get through, but some details were left out.
Max Pemberton (Why few dare tackle the psychology of ME, today [Monday]) misses the point about why ME sufferers object to being called mentally ill. The reason has nothing to do with any stigma; the reason is that they are treated dismissively and because this presumption is widely blamed for holding up research into a viable treatment for the disease. The community is well aware that some mental illnesses are serious and neurologically-based, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. ME patients are not treated as if they have this kind of illness, but as if their condition was a trivial psychological disorder and are wasting everyone’s valuable time.
The recent study he is referring to does not disprove all viral links to ME; it was only ever about one specific type of virus, the murine leukaemia viruses, the discovery of which raised a lot of (false) hope in the community in 2009 but has been widely abandoned. The community in fact largely welcome this study and the American researcher most heavily associated with the earlier study, Judy Mikovits, is among the named authors of this study. There are other viral connections that warrant investigation, particularly the Coxsackie B enterovirus which has significant epidemiological and recent virological evidence to link it to ME.
Matthew J Smith
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