#MEAction UK has written to the online publication Psychology Today asking for the retraction of a stigmatising blog post.
We believe publications such as this have a duty of care to their readers and those who they write about. In this instance that duty of care was neglected. The blog post in question fell back on outdated tropes that should have long ago been relegated to the past.
We have chosen not to include the link to this blog post here, so as not to increase traffic to this post.
Read our letter to the editor requesting retraction of the blog below:
On 23 September 2020 Psychology Today published a blog by Temma Ehrenfeld titled “Is Chronic Fatigue in your Head?” – now changed to “How Does Chronic Fatigue Develop?”.
This blog has drawn strong criticism from people with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). In consideration of the points set out below, #MEAction UK requests that the blog be withdrawn from the publication. We would welcome its replacement with writing that is more balanced in its information, more precise in evidencing its claims and does not conflate ME with the single symptom of fatigue.
It is commendable that Ehrenfeld has highlighted the severity of ME, noted the prevalence of viral triggers and cited some published research and information from the CDC. The author has also noted that immune system irregularities and autoimmunity are indicated in the disease. However “chronic fatigue” and “exhaustion” are inaccurately conflated with ME through the article, adding to the stigmatisation and dismissal that people with ME already suffer.
While Ehrenfeld does not deny that ME has physical results, she appears to argue that these are actually warning signals from the brain that can be overcome by the will of the individual if they really wanted to: “if your house was on fire, you’d find the energy to get up”. Such tropes have long meant that people with ME aren’t given the support they require and deserve, from their friends and families through to healthcare, access to benefits and more. They ignore the cardinal symptom of ME – post exertional malaise – that means that even where someone could act in instances of extreme danger they would suffer severe consequences from doing so. Further, this ignores the significant minority who are bedbound and unable to move in any way.
Unfortunately, this article does not constructively contribute to the debate about treatments that may be helpful to this patient group. Proposing exercise as a useful response goes against the mass of data showing significant deterioration in people with ME undertaking exercise programmes, and the recent National Institute for Health and Care Excellence statement that graded exercise therapy should not be assumed to be applicable to people with post-COVID fatigue.
Fundamentally, this blog’s substance helps to further muddy the waters of opinion around whether ME needs to be treated as a disease that requires biomedical research to identify its underlying causes. The article assumes emotional instigation as the definitive underlying cause of ME, without offering substantive evidence to back up this claim. Given the history of the disease and how people with ME have had to fight tooth and nail for years to be taken seriously by the medical profession, such writing is irresponsible.
We hope you will take swift action to address this, and look forward to hearing from you.