Disclaimer: The writer’s partner lives with the illness discussed in this article. She is also mentioned here at length and with her blessing.
Piers Morgan has been ‘inciting hate‘ against sick and disabled people after he attacked a disabled actress. Morgan claimed she was making her illnesses up.
But Morgan’s attitude and behaviour on social media raise far deeper issues than just his abuse of a celebrity. Because his ill-informed, misogynistic, and discriminatory views could have real-world effects on countless people. And his ignorance is sadly symptomatic of many medical professionals, and society more broadly.
A genetic illness
Jameela Jamil is an actress, model, and presenter. She’s chronically ill, having had three cancer scares in recent years, several car accidents, seizures, and a nut allergy. But her main illness is one which is still under-recognised and misunderstood.
Jamil lives with one of the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS), an illness my partner Nicola Jeffery also lives with. These are a group of genetic, inheritable connective tissue disorders, often running in families. Essentially, mutations in people’s genes mean the collagen in their body is faulty. The number of people affected by EDS is unclear. Bear in mind the number of hypermobile people (what used to be called “double-jointed”) is around 20% of the population.
This figure is important because hypermobility is one of the main signs of EDS. But still, the estimates of the number of people living with this illness vary depending on subtype. Recent research has suggested it, and the similar illness joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS), could affect around 1 in 500 people.
So, Jamil’s illness is very real. But for Good Morning Britain host Morgan, this wasn’t good enough.
Enter Piers Morgan
Recently, Jamil has been the target of abuse from Morgan on Twitter. First, Morgan mocked her story about coming out as queer:
🤣🤣 Pray for poor Jameela.. 🙏 https://t.co/gH8xCTKByo
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 6, 2020
Oddly, it was a different story when Phillip Schofield recently came out as gay:
Takes a lot of guts to do this, not least when you’re a very public figure & know it will all be dissected in a very public way. Sending my very best to @schofe & his family. 👍 https://t.co/VA6MyO5ONd
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 7, 2020
But Morgan’s also been trying to claim that Jamil’s been making her illnesses up.
Disability slur one: ‘it’s all in your head’
Well she would, wouldn't she… https://t.co/hze7XQrYu9
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 12, 2020
Munchausen’s syndrome is a mental health condition where a person pretends to be ill. After the Daily Mail, which former Mirror editor Morgan writes for, reported that Jamil’s “nut allergies have ‘cleared up'”, he tweeted:
IT’S A MIRACLE! So happy for you @jameelajamil – hope your other 1,345 virtue-signalling victimhood-craving ailments make similarly miraculous recoveries.
He continued to accuse her of lying in another tweet, saying:
Hi Jameela, lovely to hear from you as always, especially as you battle your latest terrible affliction, Munchausen syndrome. I hear it can make ‘victims’ angry & abusive, so I forgive you & wish you well with your treatment.
And then again:
Have a bag of peanuts Munchausen & pipe down. Everyone can now see you for the virtue-signalling fraud you are.
Alleged actor turned far-right commentator Laurence Fox also joined in:
I will miss your feed. Your truth. Your bravery. Peace be with you sister. 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/6KO65SNroV
— Laurence Fox 🥦 (@LozzaFox) February 14, 2020
The problem is, Jamil is not making any of her medical history or illnesses up. But the ‘it’s all in your head slur’ is all too familiar to many chronically ill and disabled people. Take the disease myalgic encephalomyelitis, known as ME.
Think yourself better
People living with ME have been disbelieved, stigmatised, given incorrect treatment, or ultimately told it’s ‘all in their heads’. Much of this comes from the now-discredited PACE trial. It was a study, part-funded by the UK government, into treatment for ME. It found that people could recover from the disease by having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In other words, people living with a very-real, viral-based illness should just ‘think themselves better’. Essentially, the trial pushed the notion that the disease was part-psychosomatic, or ‘made up’ by patients.
This is also the case for many people living with EDS. The story of Antonia Payne-Cheney, whose mother I interviewed at length, is one example. Medical professionals disbelieved Antonia, branded her a “drug seeker” and said her mother was making her illnesses up. All of this was simply not the case. Part of this is down to professional ignorance. Some of it is due to the PACE trial’s findings also being applied to EDS. And some of it is down to the NHS not even recognising many of EDS’s cluster syndromes.
But if you live with the illness, the symptoms and their implications are very real.
EDS: countless symptoms
Very Noble 😢💔
My friend lost 3 children to vascular EDS. Please #BEKIND
— Caroline Bailey (@robyndarcey5) February 18, 2020
Others are less aggressive, like classical EDS. But all are impairing in their own way. As Jamil pointed out, the severity of symptoms in EDS often fluctuates:
May I just be someone who is proof to you that the EDS/POTS/ MCAS/Hypermobility and chronic pain do make everything harder, but not impossible when it comes to acheiving some of your dreams. Regardless of what the doctors say. We are emotionally stronger than people can imagine.
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) February 23, 2020
Also, many people living with a subtype of EDS, but not all, are hypermobile. This in itself presents numerous problems; not least chronic fatigue. For many people living with EDS, this can feel like the worst bout of the flu. You literally can’t move your body for the pain, and your brain can’t think for the fogginess.
Other common symptoms include (but aren’t limited to):
- Easy bruising and scarring.
- Bacterial infections in the stomach and gut, like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
- Joint pain.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Cognitive impairment.
- Lack of spatial awareness.
- Visual impairments.
Cluster syndromes and co-morbidities
Moreover, there are many cluster syndromes and co-morbidities and illnesses associated with EDS. Nicola lives with several of these. Craniocervical and atlantoaxial instabilities are two of them. This is where, due to lax ligaments, the top four vertebrae in your neck move in ways they shouldn’t.
In Nicola, this has caused brainstem compression. This, in turn, has caused other conditions, such as seizures, dysphagia, gastroparesis and dumping syndrome. In more serious cases, like that of Samantha Smith, the instabilities can be life-threatening. But the NHS doesn’t recognise either of these conditions in the context of EDS. So, people are having to raise tens of thousands of pounds to have life-saving surgery abroad.
Jamil may well be living with some of these. But the blogger and Morgan’s accusations of Munchausen’s have meant she has had to explain herself on Twitter, again and again and again and again and.. you get the idea. This is another aspect of living with chronic illness.
Disability slur two: don’t listen, she’s just a woman
Morgan’s attacks on Jamil reek of misogyny. This kind of insinuation that a woman is wrong/stupid, or is making her illnesses up, is all too common in the medical and scientific communities, and in society more broadly. For example, EDS disproportionately affects women. Yet it takes on average 19 years of symptoms before a medical professional diagnoses someone with EDS. In Nicola’s case, it wasn’t until the age of 32. She’d been symptomatic from the age of around five.
Nicola’s ill-health was constantly dismissed throughout her life. At best, it meant having to repeatedly explain herself to family, friends, and medical professionals. At worst, she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act due to doctors and social workers not believing she was ill. Because of this, she then had to spend the next two years fighting in court for custody of her child. Her GP also tried to label her with an adjustment disorder diagnosis. We now know there is nothing wrong with her mental health.
Blame the mother
This kind of medical misogyny is entrenched across disciplines. ME is a good example of this. For example, a study into one woman noted that she thought her memory and concentration problems were due to the disease. They most probably were. But the researcher instead said:
She had been fathered by a man who never left his own wife. Work with her dreams revealed a within‐body drama in which she was locked in an unspeakable fight to the death with her mother. Her symptoms improved after parallels between a dream and an accident showed her own self‐destructive hand in her story. Another dream, reflecting her first ‘incestuous’ affair, showed her search for her original father‐self as someone separate from mother, and a later affair provided a between‐body drama, helping her to own the arrogant and abject traits she had before seen only as her mother’s. I show how we worked in the area of Winnicott’s first ‘primitive agony’ as experienced by a somatizing patient, stuck in a too‐close destructive relationship with her mother‐body.
This staggering, misogynistic pseudoscience is not something from the 1950s. It’s from 2006.
Nicola has witnessed this kind of fraudulent psychology first hand. A senior NHS neurologist, unable to work out why she was having seizures, eventually said they were down to “childhood trauma”. We now know they’re not. Her seizures are caused by cardiopulmonary dysfunction.
But it’s not just in women living with ME where this is a problem. Women with brain tumours are, according to the Brain Tumour Charity, routinely dismissed as “attention-seekers”. Or take heart disease. As The Atlantic reported, research into it predominantly used “middle-aged men”:
For example, the 1982 Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, one of the first to establish a link between cholesterol and heart disease, involved 12,866 men and no women; the 1995 Physicians’ Health Study, which found aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attack, involved 22,071 men and, again, no women.
Also, until 1993 women with “childbearing potential” were invariably excluded from drug trials.
Medical misogyny, where women are routinely disbelieved, ignored and treated appallingly because of their gender, can be seen across the medical world. It also creeps into mental health diagnoses like borderline personality disorder (BPD) and conversion disorder – conditions which many believe are treated as the modern-day version of the highly misogynistic ‘hysteria‘.
As Morgan said to Jamil:
He may as well have put at the end:
you stupid woman, you’re hysterical
It seems that other parts of the press are treating Jamil in the same way:
Now journalists are approaching my friends, colleagues and family to try and find dirt on me. Man… the effort to tear women down is strong. If only they could put this same energy into investigating the people behind climate change, voter suppression, sex trafficking…ya know?
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) February 20, 2020
But aside from the ignorance and misogyny, it’s the overt discrimination that’s a culmination of both of these which is perhaps the worst aspect of Morgan’s vile diatribe. And the real-world implications of the repeated slurring of Jamil to his seven million followers could be dire.
Disability slur three: shut up and get on with it
Nicola put out a tweet thread on Morgan. She started by saying this:
What everyone with & who supports people with #EDS should be doing, not only in support of .@jameelajamil & her partner against a vile attention seeking bullying attack, but also in support of the estimated 1in4 who potentially are already living with a form or subtype of #EDS & pic.twitter.com/onvgBmitEJ
— Nicola Jeffery (@NicolaCJeffery) February 15, 2020
And she ended it by asking people to report Morgan to Twitter:
Here. So if you have any sense of injustice or rights or like me, just don't particularly like Piers Morgan very much anyway, could you please join me in reporting him to @Twitter, as explained above and please show people with #EDS the #Solidarity we really need right now! ✊
— Nicola Jeffery (@NicolaCJeffery) February 15, 2020
You can read her entire tweet thread in the pdf document below:
But it’s what she wrote in between which is crucial. Nicola said Morgan’s tweets have (corrected for ease of reading with her permission):
cruel… and real world implications… on people living with this disability, how it affects them, others opinions regarding what rights & support these people should then have.
They also have effects on medical opinions, including funding & research.
The now aimed hate towards these people that Morgan’s tweets will very likely incite, will be on top of the already constant battle they face in trying to get the recognition & support they are entitled to.
They constantly fight for recognition and support, as sadly currently many doctors, social workers, DWP advisers/assessors, employers, even friends & family members share Morgan’s scientifically proven outdated view.
Without an upsurge of support against Morgan’s opinions, they will and probably already have caused harm.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this. But Nicola is correct that Morgan’s views encapsulate the attitudes of so many people. And they also send a dangerous message to his seven million followers.
In the age of the ‘benefit scrounger‘, society routinely questions sick and disabled people’s health. This, in my experience, tends to be worse for people with ‘invisible illnesses’; impairments and conditions that you can’t see. The real-world effects of this narrative of disbelief are damning. In 2018/19 violent disability hate crime rose by 41% on the previous year.
I’ve repeatedly witnessed firsthand Nicola’s own experience of abuse and intolerance, just because her impairments and illnesses are ones you can’t always see. This is despite her having to sometimes use a wheelchair. In fact, the random nature of this (it fluctuates) actually just makes matters worse. As people can’t understand why she needs a wheelchair one week but not the next.
Morgan’s abuse and dismissal of Jamil and her illnesses is cementing the notion that sick and disabled people are ‘undeserving’, or that they’re ‘faking it’. Given his huge platform, it’s undeniable that this attitude will seep through to his followers. But it also compounds the attitude of government agencies, medical professionals, and institutions more broadly.
It will also have real-world effects on children.
The thickest end of the wedge
Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII) is the new Munchausen’s by proxy. Essentially, it’s where medical professionals, social workers, or others accuse parents (usually the mother) of making their children’s illness up. It’s a common accusation with autistic children, but also with EDS and ME. Some campaign groups have said accusations of FII by professionals are on the rise so councils don’t have to pay for Special Educational Needs Services (SEND); a claim one law firm guardedly agrees with.
As Bailey tweeted:
@Afzal4Gorton Please can you help one of your constituents. She is a single mother and like many of us with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome she was accused of Munchausans by proxy (MSbP/Fii). She has been sanctioned by Universal Credits and needs urgent health care, she will email today.
— Caroline Bailey (@robyndarcey5) February 20, 2020
Again, Morgan’s promotion of the outdated idea of Munchausen’s will only serve to increase the suspicion around sick and disabled children and their parents. Overall, he has literally thrown millions of people under a bus without so much as a second thought.
He should be ashamed
As Jamil summed up:
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) February 12, 2020
Morgan has been accused of a lot of things. But it’s this obsessive invasion of Jamil’s health, both mental and physical, which is perhaps the most vile. He may be completely unaware of the potential harm he is causing. That’s unlikely, though. What’s more likely is that the GMB presenter literally doesn’t care.
Yet the effects of his toxic, misogynistic abuse could stretch well beyond Twitter and Hollywood. He should be ashamed. But probably he won’t be. Nor are Twitter or his employers likely to hold him to account. Which is perhaps the most damning indictment of a society that is increasingly accepting the abuse of sick and disabled people as the ‘norm’. We should all hang our heads in shame.
Featured image via Good Morning Britain – YouTube
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