Invisible illness and irrational hatred


Living with an invisible illness often means being under constant suspicion of being workshy and a malingerer, and of committing benefit fraud. Ignorant people often attribute physical but invisible illness to mental health problems, and then claim that they are not real problems. This is usually wrong on two counts, since not only are many of those illnesses not mental health problems, but mental health problems can be just as real and disabling as any physical problem.

Unfortunately some of these ignorant people have a platform to spread their ignorance and hatred through. One such person is Rod Liddle, who writes in The Spectator. After being contacted by the Fibromyalgia Society he launched an attack on the disease, saying that  “it is another one of those imaginary afflictions claimed by malingering mentals.” He went on to present a list of “Things Which Definitely Are Not Illnesses or Diseases and included Fibromyalgia and M.E. in that list. I have complained to the Press Complaints Commission about this article, and this is the text of my complaint.


 The article breaches clause 1 part 1 of the code of practice.
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

The article breaches the code of practice as it is inaccurate and misleading.

The article lists Fibromyalgia and M.E. under the heading “Things Which Definitely Are Not Illnesses or Diseases”

It is factually incorrect to state that these are not illnesses. Fibromyalgia is listed in the World Health Organisation’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems under M79 Other soft tissue disorders, not elsewhere classified, as M79.7, Fibromyalgia. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) is listed under G93 Other disorders of the nervous system as G93.3 Postviral fatigue syndrome – Benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.

The article states “[Fibromyalgia] is another one of those imaginary afflictions claimed by malingering mentals.”

The author has no grounds to claim that fibromyalgia is imaginary, as it recognised as a real physical illness by the WHO. He also has no grounds to use the phrase “malingering mentals.” Fibromyalgia is not a mental illness, and even if it were, a mental illness is a real illness and is not “malingering.” This phrase is incorrect and is disablist hate speech. The errors in this article contribute directly to hate crime, abuse, and verbal abuse against sick and disabled people, of which there has been a significant increase in recent months. (As reported by Scope at


I have saved a Freezepage copy of the offending article in case it disapears.

You can make your own complaint to the PCC on their website.

I recommend this interesting blog post on the different reactions to visible and invisible illness.


Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

6 thoughts on “Invisible illness and irrational hatred”

  1. He also claims that hepatitis is only a disease if you contract it in some way that isn’t “behaving in an inappropriate manner”. Presumably his logic would extend this to other STIs and blood-borne diseases as well. Not sure what he’s claiming is appropriate either, apart (apparently) from “administering law and order in a colony”. Hang on, that said colony. Is this guy a professional troll?

  2. Liddle also includes in his list of ‘real’ diseases ‘most other cancers.’  Perhaps we should ask him which cancers he considers to be imaginary, so we can tell the misguided sufferers of these cancers that it’s all in their minds and they should pull themselves together?
    I’d like to say what I think of Liddle but I’m too polite. I can’t believe he gets paid for churning out such drivel.

  3. Excellent post! Agreed with everything you said, and I second Christine’s comment regarding Liddle’s mention of “most other cancers”, suggesting he even thinks some cancers are works of fiction which is absurd! Its clear Liddle is both ridiculous and moronic, yet ‘articles’ like his are still upsetting and so damaging. 

  4. Not only is it a breach of the PCC Code of Conduct, but it is a breach of article 9 of the NUJ’s own code of conduct. “Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation”. I suspect the NUJ have no more interest in policing this than the PPC have, but might be worth a try.

    1. Of course, assuming arguendo that he’s right, that’s not against the NUJ guidance… and if it’s classed as op-ed, I imagine they’d say that it would have to be very clearly wrong to be in breach (after all, from his point of view he’s only encouraging hatred of people who “aren’t really'” ill).

      Absolutely disgusting, and I hope the PCC and the NUJ care about such breachers, I can just imagine the counter-arguments above being used, that’s all.

  5. from what i can gather about this guy , he says things like this to piss everyone off.
    i had never heard or read anything of his before. i know you are doing the decent thing by reporting him to the press complaints commission. but i think totally boycotting his column,  would be the real punishment.
    ” lastly i don’t think he realizes that most people in this country have an illness or if they don’t there is something wrong with them.”:)

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