CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and Mental Health

CFS, or ME as it is often known, is a long-term health condition but which can also severely affect mental health.  The onset of CFS usually follows a pro-longed viral infection or periods of stress, and is characterised by extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, memory and sleep problems making it extremely difficult for patients to function normally and in many cases unable to work or socialise in the same way in which they did prior to the infection. Some people suffering with Long Covid-19 are finding that they are now also dealing with CFS-like symptoms.

A diagnosis of CFS is given if the patient has suffered symptoms for six months or longer. Its effects can last many years, but it is normally at its most severe in the first one to two years of infection with symptoms gradually improving beyond this point. About 250,000 people in the UK suffer from CFS.

There has been much discussion whether CFS is in fact a psychological condition and the symptoms are imagined or exacerbated by the mental state of the patient. For many years sufferers of CFS have battled to convince health practitioners that they are dealing with a real physical health condition which requires treatment. The latest understanding however is that CFS is in fact a neurological condition which can in turn cause mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety to develop.

It is important that if depression and anxiety do develop as a result of CFS that these are tackled, as they in turn can worsen the symptoms of CFS. Sufferers of CFS may feel depression from the physical symptoms and how these restrict what they are able to do in everyday life. The condition can also be isolating for some as they may fear to even leave their own homes or feel alone because others do not understand the condition or how to deal with it. This can cause both depression and anxiety.

Treatment for the mental health effects of CFS can include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helps the patient to focus less on the negative aspects of the condition and instead to develop a more positive outlook. Graded exercise and activity programmes are helpful for some patients. Counselling or support groups for sufferers of CFS can also be beneficial, and some sufferers find mindfulness therapy and meditation helpful in coping with the symptoms of CFS. Others find that anti-depressants help to relieve some of the effects of CFS. Sometimes a combination of therapies such as CBT and anti-depressants is the best course of treatment.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrian Winbow has a special interest in treating the mental health effects of CFS. Online appointments with Dr Winbow are available by contacting Private Psychiatry.


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