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Harris et al: Distress in significant others of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome


Senior Member
Distress in significant others of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: A systematic review of the literature

Harris K
1, Band RJ2, Cooper H1, Macintyre VG1, Mejia A3, Wearden AJ1.

Author information
1 School of Psychological Sciences and Manchester Centre for Health Psychology, University of Manchester, UK.
2 Centre for Applications of Health Psychology, University of Southampton, UK.
3 Institute for Scientific Research and High Technology Services, City of Knowledge, Clayton, Panama.

Br J Health Psychol. 2016 Jun 3. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12202. [Epub ahead of print]


The objective of this study was to systematically review existing empirical research assessing levels and correlates of distress in significant others of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).

Systematic searches in CINAHL, Web of Science and PsycINFO were conducted in August 2014. The search was repeated in January 2015 to check for newly published articles. Studies published in English with quantitative, qualitative, or mixed designs exploring distress, poor subjective health, poor mental health, reduced quality of life and well-being, and symptoms of depression and anxiety in significant others (>18 years) of children and adults with CFS/ME were included. Quality appraisal of included studies was carried out. Quantitative and qualitative studies were summarized separately.

Six articles met eligibility criteria. Two quantitative studies with significant others of adult patients, and one quantitative and two mixed-methods studies with significant others of child patients showed moderate to high levels of distress. One qualitative study (adult patients) found minimal evidence of distress and that acceptance of CFS/ME was related to better adjustment. In the quantitative and mixed-methods studies, significant others who attributed some level of responsibility for symptoms to the patient, or who were female, or whose partners had poorer mental health, had higher levels of distress.

The small number of studies to date, the contrary evidence from a qualitative study, and the limited data available on levels of distress in significant others of patients with CFS/ME mean that our conclusion that distress levels are elevated is provisional. We recommend that future qualitative studies focus on this particular topic. Further longitudinal studies exploring correlates of distress within the context of a predictive theoretical model would be helpful. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) entails considerable economic, social, and personal costs. Uncertainties exist around diagnosis and management. This may lead to particular difficulties for significant others trying to support patients. What does this study add? Few studies have examined distress and its correlates in significant others of people with CFS/ME. Significant others report elevated levels of distress on quantitative measures.

© 2016 The British Psychological Society.

KEYWORDS: carer distress; chronic fatigue; chronic fatigue syndrome; myalgic encephalomyelitis; systematic review