Munchausen Syndrome is a psychological disorder that causes people to feign illness for attention. They often do this by poisoning themselves or hurting themselves in order to actually appear to have symptoms.
In some cases they'll even go so far as to involve other people, making them sick in order to capitalize on the attention of taking care of a sick child. This is called Munchausen's by Proxy. For all the details, see ThatOtherWiki
Hollywood has taken this syndrome and exaggerated it to the point of absurdity at times. It's common to see it show up in medical detective shows and Lifetime movies.
Very closely related to Induced Hypochondria
and Wounded Gazelle Gambit
. Named after the same person as, but not often a character trait of The Munchausen
See Playing Sick
for the less pathological version.
Anime and Manga
- Franken Fran has the five patients in "People of Unusual Tastes" that each kill themselves so that they can be treated and revived by Fran. They manage to even freak out Fran herself.
- An episode of House dealt with a woman with Munchausen Syndrome and the argument over if she was actually sick, or if all her symptoms were manufactured.
- In general, it comes up as an early diagnosis from time to time. Of course, since every single episode has the Lethal Diagnosis trope in play, we shouldn't need to tell you how many of his patients actually have Munchausen's.
- The Australian Show Review With Myles Barlow has Myles reviewing sympathy in the second season. In search of sympathy, Myles lies and hurts himself.
- The mother in "The Masks" episode of The Twilight Zone was implied have Munchausen Syndrome. She complained about how she was braving through a serious illness to visit her dying father, and many other instances in the past were implied.
- The Practice: Amoral Attorney Hannah Rose helped a client to walk away with rape by pointing out the victim had been previously diagnosed with Munchausen, despite the dubious nature of why the doctor who made that diagnosis decided to do it.
- Some Visual Kei rock musicians. Kisaki and Yoshiki are often mentioned in reference to it. Kisaki is the more clear-cut case, having actually faked illnesses to the point of getting surgeries for them, and even stolen others' hospital photographs for his own. Yoshiki may or may not be a case, since his conditions are real, but he has inflicted most of them on himself and doesn't take care for his health to prevent them from worsening, and he gets a ton of sympathy even for drinking himself into the hospital - though he likely doesn't do any of it with the primary motive of being given sympathy so whether he's a case of Munchausen or simply of not taking care of his health is debatable.
Munchausen's by Proxy
Anime and Manga
- Chiko's aunt and uncle (her legal guardians at the start of the series) in The Daughter of Twenty Faces were trying to poison her (the audience first thinks she's unappreciative when she won't eat her soup). The aunt later does this to the uncle and apparently succeeds in killing him.
- This Pokémon kink meme fill theorizes that the reason Wally has been so sick and how he immediately got better when he left home was because his mother was poisoning him through her cooking and her gifts.
- The Sixth Sense had the ghost of a little girl who had died after being poisoned by her mother in order to gain sympathy from outsiders. After her death, the mother turned her attentions on her little sister.
- One Missed Call has Munchausen's By Proxy as the Dark Secret of one character.
- In Repo! The Genetic Opera, it is revealed that Nathan poisoned Shilo to ensure that she wouldn't be able to leave him, subverting her status as the Ill Girl.
- Stephen King's It. Eddie's mother uses Munchausen by Proxy to keep him under control.
- Another Stephen King example: Misery. Annie's treatment of Paul (and the babies she murdered as a nurse) has shades of this.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "Monsters", one of the eponymous monsters is the protagonist's mother, who has Munchausen's by Proxy. When the protagonist tries to tell her about the alien monster, the mother's response is to gleefully cart her off to a child psychologist.
- A particularly chilling example is Patricia Cornwell's The Body Farm, in which a teenage boy is murdered and a woman, instead of feeling sympathy for his parents, is jealous of the attention they get and thus kills her own daughter in order to get the same attention and sympathy.
- A large plot point in Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.
- Scrubs. "Don't smother your kids".
- Criminal Minds had an episode where the unsub used his manipulation over his wife's health to prove that he had control over her living or dying.
- Another episode had an Unsub who forced his own son to asphixiate himself via hanging himself, but that was no longer enough and he got his son to help him spread this over the internet as a "game", the hanging offering a brief high to those who manage to avoid strangling themselves to death (naturally, a few fail). Then the Unsub, who was a paramedic, got to arrive on the scene and play the hero by trying to save the ashyxiated teens. Hotch calls him a classic case of Munchausen by Proxy.
- Scully initially suspects the grandmother of a murdered child of this in The X-Files episode "The Calusari."
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had this exposed in a case that actually centered on a thinly-veiled Michael Jackson analogue. The parental figure of the accuser is the one proven to commit abuse of the child.
- The original Law & Order series also had an episode featuring a mother who had several children and killed each one, claiming that each child inherited, and then died of, a rare genetic disorder in order to gain sympathy. She also tried to harm a foster child.
- JAG had a Sub Story where sailors on an attack sub kept falling ill or suffering unusual "accidents". It turned out the ship's Chief Medical Officer was responsible, creating the illnesses and injuries so he could then save the day. A review of his file revealed two of the previous ships he served on suffered mysterious maladies that he "cured", and was subsequently given awards for.
- Eminem was a victim of this as a child. His mother would have him think he was sick when he wasn't, causing him to take medication he didn't actually need, possibly leading to his later issues with drug addiction
- In Drawn Together, Princess Clara spends an episode caring for Wooldoor and making sure that he still needs to be cared for. The show even lampshades this by having the bottle of pipe cleaner she feeds him say "Not to be used for Munchausen by Proxy" on the label.