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2.  Chronic fatigue syndrome: identifying zebras amongst the horses 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:58.
There are currently no investigative tools or physical signs that can confirm or refute the presence of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). As a result, clinicians must decide how long to keep looking for alternative explanations for fatigue before settling on a diagnosis of CFS. Too little investigation risks serious or easily treatable causes of fatigue being overlooked, whilst too many increases the risk of iatrogenic harm and reduces the opportunity for early focused treatment. A paper by Jones et al published this month in BMC Medicine may help clinicians in deciding how to undertake such investigations. Their results suggest that if clinicians look for common psychiatric and medical conditions in those complaining of prolonged fatigue, the rate of detection will be higher than previously estimated. The most common co-morbid condition identified was depression, suggesting a simple mental state examination remains the most productive single investigation in any new person presenting with unexplained fatigue. Currently, most diagnostic criteria advice CFS should not be diagnosed when an active medical or psychiatric condition which may explain the fatigue is identified. We discuss a number of recent prospective studies that have provided valuable insights into the aetiology of chronic fatigue and describe a model for understanding chronic fatigue which may be equally relevant regardless of whether or not an apparent medical cause for fatigue can be identified.
See the associated research paper by Jones et al:
PMCID: PMC2766380  PMID: 19818158
3.  ‘You feel you've been bad, not ill’: Sick doctors’ experiences of interactions with the General Medical Council 
BMJ Open  2014;4(7):e005537.
To explore the views of sick doctors on their experiences with the General Medical Council (GMC) and their perception of the impact of GMC involvement on return to work.
Qualitative study.
Doctors who had been away from work for at least 6 months with physical or mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems, GMC involvement or any combination of these, were eligible for inclusion into the study. Eligible doctors were recruited in conjunction with the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, the GMC and the Practitioner Health Programme. These organisations approached 77 doctors; 19 participated. Each doctor completed an in-depth semistructured interview. We used a constant comparison method to identify and agree on the coding of data and the identification of central themes.
18 of the 19 participants had a mental health, addiction or substance misuse problem. 14 of the 19 had interacted with the GMC. 4 main themes were identified: perceptions of the GMC as a whole; perceptions of GMC processes; perceived health impacts and suggested improvements. Participants described the GMC processes they experienced as necessary, and some elements as supportive. However, many described contact with the GMC as daunting, confusing and anxiety provoking. Some were unclear about the role of the GMC and felt that GMC communication was unhelpful, particularly the language used in correspondence. Improvements suggested by participants included having separate pathways for doctors with purely health issues, less use of legalistic language, and a more personal approach with for example individualised undertakings or conditions.
While participants recognised the need for a regulator, the processes employed by the GMC and the communication style used were often distressing, confusing and perceived to have impacted negatively on their mental health and ability to return to work.
PMCID: PMC4120406  PMID: 25034631
4.  Preventing the development of depression at work: a systematic review and meta-analysis of universal interventions in the workplace 
BMC Medicine  2014;12:74.
Depression is a major public health problem among working-age adults. The workplace is potentially an important location for interventions aimed at preventing the development of depression, but to date, the mental health impact of universal interventions in the workplace has been unclear.
A systematic search was conducted in relevant databases to identify randomized controlled trials of workplace interventions aimed at universal prevention of depression. The quality of studies was assessed using the Downs and Black checklist. A meta-analysis was performed using results from studies of adequate methodological quality, with pooled effect size estimates obtained from a random effects model.
Nine workplace-based randomized controlled trials (RCT) were identified. The majority of the included studies utilized cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. The overall standardized mean difference (SMD) between the intervention and control groups was 0.16 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.07, 0.24, P = 0.0002), indicating a small positive effect. A separate analysis using only CBT-based interventions yielded a significant SMD of 0.12 (95% CI: 0.02, 0.22, P = 0.01).
There is good quality evidence that universally delivered workplace mental health interventions can reduce the level of depression symptoms among workers. There is more evidence for the effectiveness of CBT-based programs than other interventions. Evidence-based workplace interventions should be a key component of efforts to prevent the development of depression among adults.
PMCID: PMC4014627  PMID: 24886246
Depression; Prevention; Workplace; Occupational health; Occupational stress; Mental disorder; Resilience
5.  Conversion disorder: towards a neurobiological understanding 
Conversion disorders are a common cause of neurological disability, but the diagnosis remains controversial and the mechanism by which psychological stress can result in physical symptoms “unconsciously” is poorly understood. This review summarises research examining conversion disorder from a neurobiological perspective. Early observations suggesting a role for hemispheric specialization have not been replicated consistently. Patients with sensory conversion symptoms have normal evoked responses in primary and secondary somatosensory cortex but a reduction in the P300 potential, which is thought to reflect a lack of conscious processing of sensory stimuli. The emergence of functional imaging has provided the greatest opportunity for understanding the neural basis of conversion symptoms. Studies have been limited by small patient numbers and failure to control for confounding variables. The evidence available would suggest a broad hypothesis that frontal cortical and limbic activation associated with emotional stress may act via inhibitory basal ganglia–thalamocortical circuits to produce a deficit of conscious sensory or motor processing. The conceptual difficulties that have limited progress in this area are discussed. A better neuropsychiatric understanding of the mechanisms of conversion symptoms may improve our understanding of normal attention and volition and reduce the controversy surrounding this diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC2671741  PMID: 19412442
conversion disorder; hysteria; neurophysiology; functional imaging; SPECT; fMRI
6.  Job Strain, Health and Sickness Absence: Results from the Hordaland Health Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e96025.
While it is generally accepted that high job strain is associated with adverse occupational outcomes, the nature of this relationship and the causal pathways involved are not well elucidated. We aimed to assess the association between job strain and long-term sickness absence (LTSA), and investigate whether any associations could be explained by validated health measures.
Data from participants (n = 7346) of the Hordaland Health Study (HUSK), aged 40–47 at baseline, were analyzed using multivariate Cox regression to evaluate the association between job strain and LTSA over one year. Further analyses examined whether mental and physical health mediated any association between job strain and sickness absence.
A positive association was found between job strain and risk of a LTSA episode, even controlling for confounding factors (HR = 1.64 (1.36–1.98); high job strain exposure accounted for a small proportion of LTSA episodes (population attributable risk 0.068). Further adjustments for physical health and mental health individually attenuated, but could not fully explain the association. In the fully adjusted model, the association between high job strain and LTSA remained significant (HR = 1.30 (1.07–1.59)).
High job strain increases the risk of LTSA. While our results suggest that one in 15 cases of LTSA could be avoided if high job strain were eliminated, we also provide evidence against simplistic causal models. The impact of job strain on future LTSA could not be fully explained by impaired health at baseline, which suggests that factors besides ill health are important in explaining the link between job strain and sickness absence.
PMCID: PMC3995988  PMID: 24755878
7.  Shame! Self-stigmatisation as an obstacle to sick doctors returning to work: a qualitative study 
BMJ Open  2012;2(5):e001776.
To explore the views of sick doctors on the obstacles preventing them returning to work.
Qualitative study.
Single participating centre recruiting doctors from all over the UK.
Doctors who had been away from work for at least 6 months with physical or mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems, General Medical Council involvement or any combination of these, were eligible. Eligible doctors were recruited in conjunction with the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, the General Medical Council and the Practitioner Health Programme. These organisations approached 77 doctors; 19 participated. Each doctor completed an in-depth semistructured interview. We used a constant comparison method to identify and agree on the coding of the data and the identification of a number of central themes.
The doctors described that being away from work left them isolated and sad. Many experienced negative reactions from their family and some deliberately concealed their problems. Doctors described a lack of support from colleagues and feared a negative response when returning to work. Self-stigmatisation was central to the participants’ accounts; several described themselves as failures and appeared to have internalised the negative views of others.
Self-stigmatising views, which possibly emerge from the belief that ‘doctors are invincible’, represent a major obstacle to doctors returning to work. From medical school onwards cultural change is necessary to allow doctors to recognise their vulnerabilities so they can more easily generate strategies to manage if they become unwell.
PMCID: PMC3488732  PMID: 23069770
Mental Health; Occupational & Industrial Medicine; Qualitative Research
8.  Chronic fatigue syndrome in the media: a content analysis of newspaper articles 
JRSM Short Reports  2011;2(5):42.
Although cognitive behavioural therapy and graded exercise treatment are recognized evidence-based treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), their use is still considered controversial by some patient groups. This debate has been reflected in the media, where many patients gather health information. The aim of this study was to examine how treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME is described in the newspaper media.
Content analysis of newspaper articles.
The digitalized media archive Atekst was used to identify Norwegian newspaper articles where chronic fatigue syndrome/ME was mentioned.
Norwegian newspaper articles published over a 20-month period, from 1 January 2008 to 31 August 2009.
Main outcome measures
Statements regarding efficiency of various types of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME and the related source of the treatment advice. Statements were categorized as being either positive or negative towards evidence-based or alternative treatment.
One hundred and twenty-two statements regarding treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome/ME were identified among 123 newspaper articles. The most frequent statements were positive statements towards alternative treatment Lightning Process (26.2%), negative statements towards evidence-based treatments (22.1%), and positive statements towards other alternative treatment interventions (22.1%). Only 14.8% of the statements were positive towards evidence-based treatment. Case-subjects were the most frequently cited sources, accounting for 35.2% of the statements, followed by physicians and the Norwegian ME association.
Statements regarding treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME in newspapers are mainly pro-alternative treatment and against evidence-based treatment. The media has great potential to influence individual choices. The unbalanced reporting of treatment options for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME in the media is potentially harmful.
PMCID: PMC3105457  PMID: 21637403
9.  Tired all the time: can new research on fatigue help clinicians? 
PMCID: PMC2662098  PMID: 19341551
11.  The relationship between fatigue and psychiatric disorders: Evidence for the concept of neurasthenia☆ 
Journal of Psychosomatic Research  2009;66(5):445-454.
Fatigue and psychiatric disorders frequently occur comorbidly and share similar phenomenological features. There has been debate as to whether chronic fatigue, or neurasthenia, should be considered an independent syndrome distinct from psychiatric disorders. We aimed to establish whether persistent fatigue can occur independently from psychiatric disorders and to test the hypothesis that fatigue without comorbid psychiatric symptoms has unique premorbid risk factors. We also aimed to investigate the psychological outcome of any individuals with fatigue.
The MRC National Survey of Health and Development was used to prospectively follow 5362 participants from birth. A sample of nonfatigued individuals without psychiatric disorder was selected at age 36 and followed until age 43 years (n=2714). At age 43, the presence of new onset fatigue and/or psychiatric disorder was assessed. Information on a number of potential premorbid risk factors was collected between ages 0 and 36 years. Individuals with fatigue but no comorbid psychiatric disorder were then followed up at age 53 years.
At age 43 years, 201 (7.4%) participants reported significant levels of new onset fatigue in the absence of comorbid psychiatric disorder. Despite the absence of case level psychiatric disorder, these individuals did report increased levels of some psychological symptoms. Excessive childhood energy (adjusted OR 2.63, 95% CI 1.55–4.48, P<.001) and being overweight at age 36 (adjusted OR 1.62, 95% CI 1.05–2.49, P=.03) were specific risk factors for fatigue without psychiatric disorder but not fatigue with comorbid psychiatric illness. Neuroticism was a risk factor for fatigue both with and without comorbid psychiatric disorder. Negative life events and a family history of psychiatric illness were only risk factors for fatigue when it occurred comorbidly with psychiatric illness.
A significant proportion of the adult population will suffer from fatigue without comorbid psychiatric disorder. While fatigue and psychiatric disorders share some risk factors, excessive energy in childhood and being overweight as an adult appear to be specific risk factors for fatigue. Our results confirm the significant overlap between fatigue and psychiatric disorders, while also providing evidence for neurasthenia as a separate diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3500687  PMID: 19379961
Fatigue; Chronic fatigue; Neurasthenia; Psychiatric disorder; Mental disorder; Exercise; Body weight

Results 1-11 (11)