YouGov Poll asks ‘Do you think that ME is a real illness?’

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Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) otherwise known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) affects around 250,000 people in the UK – a serious condition that can cause long-term illness and disability. The condition is characterised by a persistent fatigue that can lead to significantly reduced mobility and an inability to carry out simple daily tasks, such as brushing your teeth. While the cause of CFS is not yet known, ME is a medically recognised illness which affects thousands of sufferers throughout the UK.

However, the ‘professional’ polling company YouGov seem to have forgotten this in their latest poll which asks (rather insensitively) ‘Do you think that ME, sometimes called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is a real illness or not?’ I can’t work out why YouGov are even asking this question in the first place. The World Health Organisation (WHO) are clear that ME holds a fully recognised status – as it has done since the 1960s. So why is this question being asked to uninformed members of the public rather than medical professionals?

When 250,000 people suffer from severe muscular pains, psychological difficulties and insomnia (among many other serious symptoms), how can the ‘real-ness’ of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome even be called into question?

How can an illness even fail to be real? When 250,000 people suffer from severe muscular pains, psychological difficulties and insomnia (among many other serious symptoms), how can the ‘real-ness’ of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome even be called into question? Perhaps YouGov could leave the ill and disabled population alone, instead of creating a stigma around ME which misinforms the public into questioning whether Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a real condition at all.

Why shouldn’t the most vulnerable people in society be open to the help and support they need instead of being dismissed as someone whose illness is a sham? The danger of polls like these is that they can lead to society stigmatising those with the most severe disabling forms of ME as people who are just ‘unwilling to work’
– when in fact the condition can be severely disabling and for many forces them out of work.

The danger of polls like these is that they can lead to society stigmatising those with the most severe disabling forms of ME as people who are just ‘unwilling to work’

There has been debate over the classification of the condition. The WHO classified CFS as a chronic long-term neurological condition and this classification has been accepted by the Department of Health. However, controversy still surrounds the decision as to whether it is in fact neurological. Given the context of this debate, is the poll suggesting that if the condition is neurological, it shouldn’t be recognised as real? Whatever the poll is suggesting is certainly unclear – but what is clear is exactly how real ME is to its sufferers (and of course, health professionals…) as they struggle everyday with the severe symptoms that they have to endure. Let’s not make it worse.

After contacting Freddie Sayers, Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, I finally got the response I was after – the poll had been taken down: “At YouGov we take pride in our ability to shed light on sensitive issues: by having reliable data on everything from what percentage of the population is truly racist to whether people believe in the science of climate change, we make a valuable contribution to monitoring and understanding big issues. The only way to find out whether people believe something is to ask them, but it needs to be done with sensitivity and in this case the wording understandably caused offense. For this reason, we have taken down the ME poll from the website and we hope people that have been upset by it will accept our sincere apologies.”

Photo: solvecfs

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