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S K E W E D by Martin Walker

Copies of Skewed can be purchased via the 25% ME Group. Price = £12 inc p&p.
Please make cheques payable to '25% ME Group'

Psychiatric Hegemony and the Manufacture of Mental Illness in Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Gulf War Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Reviewed by Elizabeth A McDonagh: In what is almost a sequel to his earlier book ‘Dirty Medicine’, Martin Walker takes a penetrating look at the “emerging illnesses” listed in his title.  He concludes that the majority of doctors and psychiatrists hold the view that these illnesses are psychological in origin, equivalent to the hysteria and neurasthenia described in nineteenth century medical literature.

SKEWED presents a number of case-studies, illustrating how patients suffer under a psychiatric paradigm, which deems clinical investigations of their problems inappropriate and unnecessary and may deprive them of disability pensions and insurance payments.  As Walker searches for explanations as to how the psychiatric viewpoint has gained ascendancy, his considerable skills in investigative journalism become apparent.  Some pages read like a ‘who-dun-it’.  There are hoaxes, false trails, undercover surveillance, break-ins, attacks on alternative therapists and court battles in which doctors who practise clinical ecology have fought for their reputations and their livelihoods.  Such events indicate some of the dark forces Walker sees as underpinning patients’ distress.

In his perceptive foreword, Per Dalen explains how modern high-tech so-called ‘evidence based’ medicine deprives the doctor of autonomous clinical judgement and interposes between doctor and patient the researcher and/or the orthodox viewpoint.  In the past, psychiatrists saw only those patients with histories and clinical signs of mental illness.  Even then, a physical explanation (such as a brain tumour) was sometimes found for a patient’s disease.  The tendency now is for a number of unexplained illnesses to be labelled as ‘somatization’ (conversion of emotional states into physical symptoms).  This is a relatively new development and has been accepted without scientific evidence or philosophical debate.  He deplores the ‘tragic erosion of the truth-seeking scientific spirit in medical research’.  Modern medicine is not concerned with finding causes.  However, viewed from Martin Walker’s sociological perspective, one can begin to understand these problems and the impact they are having on sufferers.

SKEWED is a fascinating read.  In fact I couldn’t put it down.  I confess to looking up ‘hegemony’ in the Shorter Oxford and although I kept a medical dictionary at my elbow, I needed it only occasionally.  If patients with brain-fog and short attention spans find reading difficult, this book should be read by their carers, advocates and lawyers.  Reading it will lead to a new political awareness.  There is a need for people with these very real illnesses to become informed; to disseminate information; to organise; to help each other in exposing those who would deprive them of their rights; to support those doctors, researchers and therapists who are looking for the true causes and underlying biochemical mechanisms which make up the jigsaw that is ME; even to litigate against the adversary.

I am one of a few lucky people.  ME struck me down in 1990 after a virus, a chest-infection, two courses of antibiotics and a ‘flu jab. I attribute my recovery (which took nearly five years) to naturopathic detoxification techniques, avoidance of drugs (though I did take Nystatin), rest and nutritional therapy, including a strict anti-Candida diet.  I have heard the stories of parents who were labelled as ‘Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy’ and threatened with losing their sick children.  I have met ME patients who were ill-advised and made worse by exercise and drugs, or subjected to appalling regimes in psychiatric hospitals.  I have known very disabled people denied sickness benefits.  I have met young professionals who, forced by sickness to retire, were refused pensions.  I have seen carers struggling to the extent of despair.  The suicide of a lovely girl put fire in my belly.

If the situation described in SKEWED is allowed to continue, there are frightening implications for the future of mankind.  Martin Walker has done us a tremendous service.  We should thank him by buying his book.  The book has a comprehensive index and offers useful lists of relevant organisations, web-sites, scientific papers, official reports and books.

Copies of Skewed can be purchased via the 25% ME Group. Price = £12 inc p&p.

Please make cheques payable to 25% ME Group.