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 by Proxy. For all the details, see ThatOtherWiki. Munchausen by Internet is for someone who exaggerates or fakes various conditions and illnesses online for money, sympathy, or just to be a troll.
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.
See Playing Sick for the less pathological version.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Munchausens 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 attentions on 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 "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.
- Another episode, "Pathological" (this one being Ripped from the Headlines being based on Lacey Spears), 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 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.
- 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.
- 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"
- 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.