Identifying and managing suicidality in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lily Chu, Meghan Elliott, Eleanor Stein, Leonard A Jason in Healthcare Vol 9, #6, 629 May 25, 2021 (This article belongs to the Special Issue ME/CFS – the Severely and Very Severely Affected) [doi.org/10.3390/healthcare9060629]
Adult patients affected by myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) are at an increased risk of death by suicide. Based on the scientific literature and our clinical/research experiences, we identify risk and protective factors and provide a guide to assessing and managing suicidality in an outpatient medical setting. A clinical case is used to illustrate how information from this article can be applied.
Characteristics of ME/CFS that make addressing suicidality challenging include absence of any disease-modifying treatments, severe functional limitations, and symptoms which limit therapies. Decades-long misattribution of ME/CFS to physical deconditioning or psychiatric disorders have resulted in undereducated healthcare professionals, public stigma, and unsupportive social interactions. Consequently, some patients may be reluctant to engage with mental health care.
Outpatient medical professionals play a vital role in mitigating these effects. By combining evidence-based interventions aimed at all suicidal patients with those adapted to individual patients’ circumstances, suffering and suicidality can be alleviated in ME/CFS. Increased access to newer virtual or asynchronous modalities of psychiatric/psychological care, especially for severely ill patients, may be a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic.