Wednesday, 15 August 2018

On the question of suicide risk and chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis continued

The paper by Andrew Devendorf and colleagues [1] brought me back to a complicated and sensitive topic previously discussed on this blog (see here) regarding the issue of suicide risk in the context of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Specifically, the Devendorf findings provide some potentially important information about the possible reasoning behind suicide risk in the context of ME/CFS: "(1) feeling trapped and (2) loss of self, loss of others, stigma and conflict."

Based on discussions with 29 people diagnosed with ME/CFS "who endorsed suicidal ideation but did not meet depression criteria" researchers, including one Leonard Jason (see here), discussed some of the hows-and-whys of such suicidal ideation. As per the 'did not meet depression criteria' sentiments of the research, this work was less about 'mental health diagnoses affecting suicide risk' and more about how thoughts, feelings and situational factors might play a role. And as per the two variables highlighted by the study - 'feeling trapped' and 'loss of self & others and the stigma and conflict' generated by this incapacitating condition(s), some clear areas for further research and clinical attention emerged.

I've covered the sensitive issue of suicide (risk, ideation, completion) quite a few times on this blog for all-manner of different reasons (see here and see here for examples). In the most part, my musings have been on research into suicide where a specific label/condition/disorder has been diagnosed, and how facets of such labels/conditions/disorders *might* at least partially, 'intrinsically' elevate the risk of suicide ideation or beyond. The Devendorf findings kinda deviate from such 'intrinsic' sentiments, insofar as examining the implications of an acquired physical disability (see here and see here) and the onward the physical (and mental) restrictions of a condition seemingly elevating the risk of suicidality. By saying all that, I'm not making any sweeping generalisations...

I don't think anyone should really be surprised by the Devendorf results. With ME/CFS you have a condition that literally steals life from people; for example, rendering previously fit and active people to sometimes being bed-bound for days and days (or even longer) at a time. Add in a 'boom-bust' pattern of symptoms (see here) and the various 'environmental' effects (to employment, finances, social life, etc) of the condition, and well, I'm often surprised how resilient people with ME/CFS are.

I noted also how the words 'stigma' and 'conflict' were also detailed in the Devendorf study, and what implications this might have for quite a few areas of current research and clinical practice in relation to ME/CFS. I'm thinking specifically about the whole 'biopsychosocial (BPS) thing' that seems to have pervaded ME/CFS thinking down the years (see here), and how psychology in particular, seems to have over-stepped it's usefulness in relation to ME/CFS. It's kind of a coincidence that as I write this post, another article including Keith Geraghty [2] on the authorship list, is published discussing how some ME/CFS patients and patient groups have been labelled as 'militant' (or similar words and phrases) on the basis of them pushing back against medical dogma as a function of their own experiences of BPS-backed 'intervention' for example (see here). Militant is one word that has been used, 'vexatious' is another (see here).

"Participants emphasized that they were not depressed, but felt trapped by the lack of treatments available." This sentence serves to reiterate that suicidality in the context of ME/CFS is perhaps not something that should necessarily be thought of as intrinsic to the condition(s). It emphasises how issues like 'hopelessness' at the state of medical knowledge about ME/CFS, about the lack of biological explanation for the condition, and the lack of intervention options (not BPS guided I might add) may play a role in thoughts and feelings related to suicidality. It also provides another rather pressing reason why less 'psychologising' and more biological science needs to be dedicated to the hows-and-whys of ME/CFS and the search for a cure...


[1] Devendorf AR. et al. Suicidal ideation in non-depressed individuals: The effects of a chronic, misunderstood illness. J Health Psychol. 2018 Jul 1:1359105318785450.


1 comment:

  1. There was a survey decades back in Victoria, Australia, which showed that one in ten CFS patients had attempted suicide but survived, and one in six long term patients. I have been talking with ME patients for decades, and am involved in advocacy (I am an encephalitis survivor, with probable ME) and I think a missing element in the discussion is the pain and suffering, without relief. Years to decades of that can lead to substance abuse, but also thoughts of suicide. The lack of effective treatments means some patients have to choose between relentless suffering, with full knowledge it cannot be treated, and suicide.


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