Some people pretend to be sick or make themselves sick. But what could cause a person to do that? And how should they be treated? In this lesson, we'll look closer at factitious disorders.
Piper is addicted to hospitals. She loves that every time she's admitted to one, the nurses and doctors buzz around her trying to figure out what's wrong. They take good care of her, and when she's in a hospital, all the stresses of the rest of her life (work, relationship problems, unpaid bills), they all seem to fade away. As a result, Piper has a habit of making up symptoms so that she'll be admitted to the hospital. Once or twice, she's even purposely made herself sick.
Piper is suffering from factitious disorder, a psychological disorder that involves making yourself sick or pretending to be sick without any obvious benefit. A related disorder, factitious disorder by proxy, involves making someone who is in your care sick. For example, if instead of making herself sick, Piper made her son sick, she would have factitious disorder by proxy.
To most people, the idea of making yourself sick seems odd. After all, there are billion-dollar industries devoted to keeping people healthy. So what could make someone think that it was a good idea to make herself or someone she takes care of sick? And what are the consequences of Piper's actions? In this lesson, we'll examine the causes, treatment and social ramifications of factitious disorders.
Causes and Treatment
It's very hard to estimate how common factitious disorders are because it's hard to tell if someone is making themselves sick, faking being sick or if they really do have something wrong with them. Likewise, no one is exactly sure what causes factitious disorders, though it is probably a combination of both biological and psychological factors.
Brain scans have shown a difference in the brains of patients who suffer from factitious disorders and those who do not. Specifically, those who have factitious disorders have certain brain abnormalities. This suggests that perhaps there is a biological basis for the illness. At the same time, there are many psychological risk factors that factitious disorder patients seem to have in common. Many patients had childhood illness or had a family member who was ill as a child, which resulted in attention from medical personnel.
For example, Piper has a twin sister Emilia who was very sick as a child. Emilia spent a lot of time in hospitals, and every time she was there, the hospital staff would come and check on Emilia regularly. Their mom neglected Piper whenever Emilia was in the hospital. Piper learned that in order to get attention and love, you must be sick. Other common risk factors include a history of relationships with or grudges against doctors and certain mental disorders, including borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.
Treatment for factitious disorders is tricky. Patients like Piper don't usually remain in therapy long enough to gain benefit from it. But there are no medications to treat factitious disorders directly, so therapy is still the best option. And though there are no medications specifically for factitious disorders, patients who also experience depression or anxiety might be prescribed antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.
Factitious disorders have many social and legal consequences. The ramifications of these disorders affect not only the patient but society at large. Remember Piper? She has many unpaid bills and is in and out of work. She doesn't have health insurance, and she can't pay for her hospital stay. Like Piper, people who have factitious disorder and little or no health insurance can become a financial drain on the healthcare system.
Not only that, but remember that Piper isn't really sick. She's faking it so that she can be admitted into the hospital. But what if someone else really is sick and can't get medical attention because the doctors and nurses are treating Piper? Again, this can cause tremendous problems to society at large. But perhaps the most severe and direct consequences involve factitious disorder by proxy.
Remember that factitious disorder by proxy involves making someone in your care sick. This is most common in mothers who make their children sick, though it can also be done by fathers or by people taking care of elderly or disabled relatives. Patients with factitious disorder by proxy can and usually are charged with child abuse or neglect. This can lead to both legal and social ramifications. A parent may lose their children and/or face legal consequences.
Factitious disorders are psychological disorders that involve making yourself or a loved one sick without obvious benefit. There are many possible causes, including biological and psychological issues. Treatment usually involves therapy, though many patients do not stick with therapy and end up relapsing. Finally, factitious disorders come with social and legal ramifications, including being a drain on the healthcare system and the possibility of being charged with abuse if a patient suffers from factitious disorder by proxy.
This lesson can help you fulfill the following tasks:
- Define factitious disorders
- Identify causes and treatment options for factitious disorders
- Explain the social ramifications that come with factitious disorders