Fibromyalgia Linked To Increased Suicide Risk In Tragically Ableist Article

July 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

by KATIE E.

A new study has shown that women with fibromyalgia are ten times more likely to commit suicide than women without the chronic pain condition.

Researchers in Denmark followed death rates of men and women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and while the death rates overall for both genders were consistent, only the individual mortality causes of males were very similar to the rest of the population. Within the women followed, about 3.3% died through suicide, compared to less than 0.005% of the general female population.

The article notes that this is not truly brand new news, as many doctors, and, more likely, people with fibromyalgia, have been aware of this for years.

I suppose the article can be seen as somewhat of a good thing, because it calls attention to the fact that fibromyalgia is a real condition that can have devastating consequences, which many people living in this ableist world don’t or refuse to understand. Normally, I would shudder at the thought of this, but all one has to do to read dozens of stories of misdiagnoses, accusations of lying about the condition, and years of chronic pain is to read the (surprisingly civil) comment section on the article. It is not a safe space by any means, and there are a few ableist comments that are definitely triggering, but all in all, it is one of the few mainstream sites I’ve seen people with fibromyalgia share their stories without excessive attacks, derailing, etc.

The article isn’t perfect, though. There is the obvious issue that this is something people with fibromyalgia and (good) medical professionals already know, but other parts of the article seemed to do nothing but erase the experiences of the exact same women that the article is written about, particularly a section where one of the researchers speculated on the exact causes of the suicides:

“Dr. Bente Danneskiold-Samse, a rheumatologist at Frederiksberg Hospital and one of the study’s authors, said that other psychiatric illnesses that often occur in tandem with fibromyalgia might not be the only explanation for the high suicide rates.”

This leaves the reader to wonder if Dr. Danneskiold-Samse has actually talked to many women with fibromyalgia who may be suicidal, or if she, being the typical “expert,” just decided it must be true without sufficient evidence. The parts of the article detailing the study make no reference to asking women whether or not they had a diagnosed psychiatric condition, or even asking what their primary reason (the section frames it as a depression vs. physical pain issue, I’ll get to that in a moment) for contemplating suicide was.

Better yet, why not take the focus off the “experts” and actually interview some women with fibromyalgia who may have experienced suicidal thoughts or other psychiatric conditions who are willing to share their experiences? They’re the only real experts here, yet the article silences their voices.

“None of the patients in the study who committed suicide had a history of psychiatric illness before they were diagnosed with fibromyalgia.”

Well, this is a huge, ableist fail. Believe it or not, so-called experts of the world, psychiatric conditions can change radically, especially after the diagnosis of the condition that you just said correlates with suicide. Shouldn’t that be blatantly obvious?

“The high suicide rate could still be linked to depression in these patients, or to anti-depressants that are known to carry risks of suicide, she told Reuters Health. But ‘many of these patients do not take anti-depressant medications because of the side effects, and because they do not feel depressed,’ she said. ‘My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.’”

So much assuming, silencing, and obviousness going on here. Apparently, this doctor knows everything about women with fibromyalgia who’ve committed suicide — why they don’t take anti-depressants, and exactly why they committed suicide. Never mind the fact that some people can’t take anti-depressants because of other conditions, some don’t believe in or see effects of them, and some can’t afford them, among other things. Don’t forget: “My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.”…really? Does she not notice that that is a huge assumption about all women with fibromyalgia? Some women with fibromyalgia take their lives solely because of the pain, some only because of depression that has nothing to do with their physical condition, some solely because of depression caused by pain, and many because of various combinations of the above, along with completely different reasons.

As stated before, the article does acknowledge fibromyalgia as a real condition that can create very severe problems for people, but it cannot effectively do its job while it silences the women affected by the condition everyday.

§ 2 Responses to Fibromyalgia Linked To Increased Suicide Risk In Tragically Ableist Article

  • Well, this woke me up to something I’d never even considered: the idea that people with fibromyalgia are treated as if their illness is not serious. I hate it when people do that, with ANY illness. Also, I just fund out recently that my little sister, who is still in high school, has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She deals with it well, but she’s in pain a lot and has to visit doctors a lot. Yet she stays so positive, and has goals for her life, and I really admire her for that. It just makes me fighting mad to think 1) that anyone would dare to say her pain isn’t real, or that her condition isn’t and 2) that people, supposedly experts, can so easily group people together based on one factor, and make assumptions like that about them based on it as well. What happened to “correlation does not equal causation?” What happened to objectivity and science, for that matter?

  • Nayla says:

    Enjoyed reading this, thanks! this is my blog…
    Very few people are insightful enough to call out ablism.

    http://talkaboutallabout.tumblr.com/

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