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The Independent Online
ME and stress in the classroom

Jane Colby's interpretation of Dr Elizabeth Dowsett's and her research findings into how many children, young people and teachers were suffering from ME (22 May) is too readily tied to the evidence of clustering.

Clustering does not necessarily point to a viral infection. Surely, undue stress within the learning (and teaching) environment experienced in the schools is a major contributor, which no doubt lowered the victims' resistance to other sources of infection.

Very often the first sign of ME is that a person fails to recover from a bout of influenza or a heavy cold.

There is no doubt that the presence of sewage in a recreational stretch of water had contributed to a range of illnesses amongst the children who had enjoyed playing in, or near, the polluted water. However, from personal experience of colleagues suffering from workplace-related ME, I strongly urge Colby and Dowsett not to dismiss lightly the effects of overcrowding in the classroom, poor facilities, and the stress that these induce on both children and teaching staff.

I used to work for a campaigning organisation in North London, which had a small but hard-working staff. Two of the staff left to work elsewhere, but no sooner had they left than they began to show symptoms of ME. They had to leave their new jobs, as they could no longer work. There is no doubt that the stressful environment we all worked in was a major contributory factor in both Peter and Mary (their names have been changed) suffering from ME. Peter has recovered and is now working for a research organisation. However, Mary is still suffering and finds even attending college one day a week a heavy strain.

Surely the clear message to David Blunkett and his colleagues is that class sizes should be dramatically reduced and more teachers employed. Schools should also be properly maintained, and supplied with teaching aids and materials.

Tony Martin

Blackheath, London SE3

GPs should read this

A wonderful relief to read such a well-informed article (22 May) on the devastation ME causes in schools. Let's just hope that every sceptical GP reads it too. The rate of recovery from ME can depend on getting a early diagnosis. Too many ME patients are told by GPs that there is nothing wrong with them, and encouraged to struggle on in the early stages of illness. This only leads to a worsening of the condition in severity and length of illness.

How come, when the whole country knows someone who has suffered with ME, some GPs persist in remaining ignorant, unhelpful and unwilling to diagnose?

Caroline Norrie

Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire

We must overcome inertia

With reference to the articles "I'm not tired, I'm sick" and "Learning is hard when you're too weak to eat", I have worked for five years with young people in Norfolk with fatigue. I, and they, have experienced a great deal of inconsistency in responses from schools, doctors and others working in this area of child health. In this work I have found that listening and responding to the young people's concerns, and those of their families, has principally informed my approach which has facilitated the successes referred to in the articles by Jane Colby and Mike Downes.

It is vital for managers to recognise the stresses this imposes on staff in the field, who currently lack effective professional support while they try to forge an appropriate educational format to what is an obvious but ill-defined need.

This is the difficulty of any professional group responding to a newly emerging paradigm. The inertia of the established systems tends to militate against new developments and approaches, so I am keen to encourage open exploration in advance of medical and educational certainty.

Brenda Bingham-Hall

New Buckenham, Norfolk