“It’s personal to me”: A qualitative study of depression in young people with CFS/ME

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Background: Paediatric CFS/ME has a prevalence of 0.4-2.4% and is defined as ‘generalised disabling fatigue persisting after routine tests and investigations have failed to identify an obvious underlying cause’. One third of young people with CFS/ME have probable depression. Little is known about why depression develops, the relationship between depression and CFS/ME, or what treatment might be helpful.

Methods: We conducted nine semi-structured interviews with young people with CFS/ME (aged 13-17 years, 8/9 female) and probable depression, covering perceived causes of depression, the relationship between CFS/ME and depression, and treatment strategies.

Results: Most thought CFS/ME caused depression. Many talked about a cyclical relationship: low mood made CFS/ME worse. A sense of loss was common. CFS/ME restricted activities participants valued and changed systemic structures, causing depression. There was no single helpful treatment approach. Individualized approaches using combinations of CBT, medication, activity management and other strategies were described.

Conclusions: This study suggests that depression may be secondary to CFS/ME in young people because of the impact of CFS/ME on quality of life. Clinicians treating young people with CFS/ME need to consider strategies to prevent development of depression, and research is needed into approaches that are effective in treating CFS/ME with co-morbid depression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-340
Number of pages15
JournalClinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number2
Early online date14 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • CFS/ME
  • depression
  • young people
  • adolescents

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