By Jenny Hope
Scientists trying to identify the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome – better known as ME – are being subjected to death threats and abuse, it emerged last night.
Some patients and activists are violently opposed to any research that implies the condition is ‘all in the mind’ and not a biological condition.
But recent studies by psychiatrists suggest mental health techniques could help tackle the condition – which affects around 250,000 Britons – potentially scotching the virus theory.
This has led to an outpouring of hatred against the researchers and, in some cases, their families.
Among those targeted is Professor Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist from King’s College London, who has received a series of death threats.
Official complaints have also been made alleging personal misconduct – all proved to be unfounded – to universities, ethical committees and the General Medical Council about Professor Wessely and other healthcare professionals.
Last night he said: ‘It’s direct intimidation. The threats say we’re evil and that psychiatrists should not be involved in this field.
‘The police have been involved and I take advice about security, with my mail routinely scanned for suspect devices.’
A major British trial reported in The Lancet earlier this year found some ME patients can get back to a normal life through supervised exercise and talking therapies.
The treatments enabled at least one in three people to recover from the disorder, which leaves many bed-bound or in a wheelchair.
Despite these successes some ME campaigners refuse to accept any psychiatric explanation for the illness. Professor Wessely said the opposition was misguided because research by psychiatrists had begun to solve the mystery of ME, including the effect of the glandular fever virus.
‘They fall victim to the label, and believe that the mere involvement of psychiatry denigrates them and denigrates the condition,’ he said.
He has gone public in exposing the vilification because he fears it is potentially as damaging to medical research as attacks made by animal rights campaigners.