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 person (usually a child). This is called Munchausen by Proxy. For all the details, see Wikipedia. Munchausen by Internet is for someone who exaggerates or fakes various conditions and illnesses online for money, sympathy, or just to be a troll.
In a case of Science Marches On, Munchausen Syndrome is now formally referred to as Factitious Disorder, while Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy is referred to as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another.
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.s
See Playing Sick for the less pathological version.
Compare Hypochondria, in which the person genuinely thinks they're ill.
- As mentioned at the top of the page, web forums are occasionally visited by online personas that, over a period of months or years, will develop severe progressive illnesses, often of a vague or indeterminate nature and with conflicting symptoms. Some of the more severe cases will kill off the persona and post an obituary as a family member, then create a new persona to start the process over again.
- Ethan Frome. Zeena has Munchausen Syndrome.
- Played for Laughs in Arrested Development. In her spare time at school, Maeby disguises herself as Surely Wolfbeak, a young girl paralysed in a wheel chair. She poses as Surely to scam people for donations, but also to receive popularity amongst her co-hort.
- 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 (1959) was either this or a hypochondriac. 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.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In the episode "Manipulated", Tessa is revealed to have this, faking her paralysis and injecting herself with viruses to make herself appear sicker. Her lawyer tries to use this to claim that she isn't fit to stand trial.
Attorney Walsh: My client is sick, Your Honor, but she cannot stop. Whenever she's under stress, she will make herself ill.Casey Novak: Well, then, gee, why don't we let her off before she injects herself with HIV.
- 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.
- The Wings: Mama trailer for the BTS Universe reveals one of the characters' big secrets: the reason Hoseok is "sick" and being treated at the hospital is because he was diagnosed with Munchausen.
Munchausen by Proxy
- 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 attention to her little sister. The girl's ghost gets Cole to find a videotape she had made showing the poisoning which he shows to the father, who angrily confronts his wife at the post-funeral service.
- One Missed Call has Munchausen's By Proxy as the Dark Secret of one character.
- Alma in Phantom Thread realises she enjoys Reynold's (her lover) company when he is befelled with illness. During his sickness, he is softer, kinder and less irritated by Alma. When healthy, he is short-tempered and annoyed by disturbances. With her knowledge of edible and non-edible mushrooms, she begins feeding him poisonous fungi. Though the mushrooms are not poisonous enough to kill him, they are enough to keep him bed-ridden. In his sickness, their relationship strengthens. By the end of the film, he willingly takes part in it, despite the macabre nature of their enduring love.
Alma: I want you flat on your back. Helpless, tender, open with only me to help. And then I want you strong again. You're not going to die. You might wish you're going to die, but you're not going to. You need to settle down a little.
- 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.
- In Tana French's In the Woods, the detective protagonists discover strange bouts of illness in the medical records of the murdered girl and speculate Munchausen by proxy. Although this guess proves incorrect, they're right about one thing: she was being poisoned by a family member.
- Julie Gregory's haunting memoir, ''Sickened'', chronicles the author's 20 years of abuse at the hands of her severely narcissistic mother and schizophrenic father. According to the memoir, not only would her mother regularly tamper with her diet and prescriptions, but she also continuously pressed doctors to perform disturbingly invasive procedures in order to get the desired diagnoses.
- Inverted in The Secret Garden, in which Colin's father is so set upon avoiding attention that he has his servants and hired doctor to convince Colin he's too frail and crippled to walk or leave the house, the better to keep father and son isolated from outsiders and each other. Thus, Colin had never learned to walk because he was prevented from trying to.
- Saving Max: This is half of Marianne's motive, the other half being Mad Scientist. She's had two children before, both of whom died from her abuse. Her only surviving child Jonas has been diagnosed with autism and intellectual impairment, but he wasn't born that way - he has Childhood Brain Damage from a seizure induced by Marianne, who has trained him to display autistic behaviors such as self-injuring on cue. She laps up the attention she receives from her children's illnesses and deaths.
- Scrubs. "Don't smother your kids."
- Criminal Minds:
- There's 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 asphyxiate 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 asphyxiated 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 "Sick", a case that actually centered on a thinly-veiled Michael Jackson analogue. The grandmother of the second accuser is the one proven to commit abuse of the child, having poisoned her with mercury and claiming it was cancer. They make a deal for immunity on defrauding the millionaire, but Novak still decides to prosecute her for fraud for all the hundreds of thousands she's raised through donations for the "illness", as well as attempted murder. The woman tries to claim that she's "sick" and can't stand trial, but Novak dismissively comments "No one's that stupid" and everyone will see she's just greedy.
- Another episode, "Pathological" (this one being Ripped from the Headlines being based on Dee Dee Blanchard), features a mother who poisoned her 15-year-old daughter with drugs her entire life, putting her in a wheelchair she didn't need and causing her to have seizures. When this is revealed, the daughter gets better and ends up killing her mother in self-defense.
- The Dee Dee Blanchard story itself was dramatized in the Hulu miniseries The Act.
- 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, "Silent Service", 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.
- In series two of Bron|Broen, Saga deduces that Martin's nanny has been doing this to his son. It turns out that she has herself been a victim of it.
- In Season 3 episode 5 of Supernatural, Sam and Dean investigate the spirit of a girl who is close to death and in a coma ever since her mother made her drink bleach to gain attention and pity.
- A case on Elementary sees Sherlock and Joan discover that a son killed his mother because he discovered that she had spent years drugging him with his grandfather's heart medication to make him think he was ill. However, Joan has little sympathy for the son, considering that he also killed the doctor who told him the truth about his mother's actions, despite the fact that the doctor only learned about the issue because she had been committing fraud (using the names and contact details of other doctors to write bogus prescriptions) and would have almost certainly lost her medical license and been sent to prison for nothing more than trying to help the boy.
- The murder victim in episode 4.06 of Motive was revealed as a woman who poisoned her stepson for attention, and had previously poisoned (and killed) another boy four years prior. She was killed by the deceased boy's music teacher, who had suspected her in the death.
- Played for Laughs in an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Mac poisons Dennis with blended foods that upset his stomach disguised as protein shakes in order to nurse him back to health and prove that he's dependable.
- An episode of The X-Files followed Mulder and Scully investigating a child whose Romanian immigrant grandmother's behavior toward said child led them to suspect she was engaging in this. This being The X-Files, however, they wound up wishing it was actually something as mundane as this. Turns out the kid was possessed by the ghost of his stillborn brother, and granny was trying to exorcise him. Whoops.
- 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
My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn'tNow I grew up and I blew up and made you sick to your stomach, doesn't it?- "Cleaning Out my Closet"
- Bandage Babe Mikan Tsumiki, the Ultimate Nurse in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair showed an inclination towards this, with it partially being Played for Laughs. A weepy Shrinking Violet and Extreme Doormat with no self-confidence of her own, she became a nurse to have power over sick people, and in the "Dangan Island" mode she openly contemplates crippling Hajime to keep him dependent on her. Occasionally her Free Time events end with her chasing him with a comically large syringe.
- From the Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG list:
992. The rest of the party would appreciate it if I didn't take Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy as a flaw.
- 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.
- In an episode of King of the Hill, Bill takes care of the Hill family after they all get the flu. When they recover Bill's so desperate to keep taking care of them that he attempts to poison the soup he was making them with ipecac, only for Hank to walk in and talk him down.