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 Monday, 8 November, 1999, 14:11 GMT
ME children treated as mentally ill
Boy sleeping
CFS patients feel constantly exhausted
Children suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are being pressurised into having psychological treatment which may not be appropriate, according to a BBC survey.

Some 25,000 children in the UK are estimated to be suffered from the syndrome, also known as M.E. (myalgic encephalomyelitis), and it is recognised by the Department of Health.

However, doctors are divided on how it should be treated and many do not accept that it exists.

An exclusive survey for the BBC's Panorama programme found that 60% of families of children with CFS were told their symptoms were a result of psychological problems.

In a disproportionate number of cases, doctors had suggested that the children's parents had Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy - a condition which causes parents to harm or fake symptoms of illness in their children in order to gain attention.

Some who had opposed psychological treatment for their children had been threatened with having them taken into care.

Long-term sickness

Symptoms of CFS include headaches, sore throat, sleep disturbance and muscle pain. In some cases, the problems can be severely disabling.

CFS campaigners say it is the biggest cause of long-term sickness in children.

Some doctors believe psychological treatments are at its root and that children need to be offered some sort of therapy that diverts their attention from their symptoms.

But others are more likely to consider it a physical problem and say children with the problem should take as many breaks as possible and not be pushed into doing more than they feel able to.

One of the children featured on the Panorama programme is Georgie Sheldon.

She contracted CFS after being treated for cancer.

Twelve-year-old Georgie was admitted to a psychological unit for treatment for CFS. Half the children there had eating disorders.

She and her family felt strongly it was not geared to treating her condition. She claims the doctors and nurses did not seem to recognise her physical symptoms. Her mother said: "One of them [the staff] phoned me to say she was ill and actually I wasn't allowed to go and visit and that's when I lost it a bit and sort of said well she hasn't been sectioned under the Mental Health Act of course I can come and visit.

"But in a way I was given the impression that even if I did turn up they wouldn't let me in."

'Sick and Tired' is being screened as part of the BBC's Panorama strand at 10pm BST on Monday 11 November 1999.

See also:

20 May 98 | Medical notes
30 Sep 98 | Health
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