Why do young people with CFS/ME feel anxious? A qualitative study

Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013 Oct;18(4):556-73. doi: 10.1177/1359104512460862. Epub 2012 Oct 23.


Young people with chronic fatigue syndrome or myalagic encephalopathy (CFS/ME) (CFS/ME) experience higher levels of psychological distress than healthy controls and young people with other chronic illnesses, and it was recently demonstrated that 38% of this population scored above the clinical cut-off on the Spence Child Anxiety Scale. Subscales of social and separation anxiety were consistently high across gender and age groups. In this study, we used qualitative methods to help us understand more about these two types of anxiety in young people with CFS/ME. Eleven young people (age 12-18) were interviewed. Interviews were self-directed by the participants and were wide ranging. The transcripts were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Five superordinate themes were identified: social loss and adjustment; introduction of uncertainty and unpredictability; the vulnerable self; individual differences; and contributions towards recovery. Many themes were identical to those described in young people coping with other chronic illnesses in adolescence. In addition, young people with CFS/ME describe experiences associated with the perceived illegitimacy of this condition, namely: feeling unable to explain their illness; bullying from peers; disbelief; and distrust from adults around them. This becomes an additional challenge for these young people. Clinicians need to be aware of these problems, and offer appropriate support.

Keywords: Adolescents; ME; anxiety; chronic fatigue syndrome; qualitative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / complications*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Child
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / complications*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Peer Group
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self Concept
  • Social Adjustment
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology