Not Mentally Mainstream Part 2: Can Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy be prevented or treated?

Read the Not Mentally Mainstream series.

Photo credit: Brownie Harris/Hulu

There is one severe mental disorder that is being talked about more and more in pop culture. And that's Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, also known as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (FDIA).

I've watched three TV shows/movies about FDIA in the last year or so, the most recent being "The Act" on Hulu.

For anyone who hasn't heard of the miniseries "The Act," it's based on the true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, now 27, and her mother, Dee Dee. In 2016, Gypsy was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring with her boyfriend to murder Dee Dee.

Gypsy's motivation for wanting her mother dead: Dee Dee had pretended her daughter had leukemia, asthma, vision and hearing impairment, muscular dystrophy, seizures and the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. Of this laundry list of disorders, the only thing that's true is that Gypsy has a minor vision impairment in her left eye.

So, why did Dee Dee make her daughter travel in a wheelchair even though she could walk? Why did she make her consume her food through a feeding tube even though she could eat? Why did she make her undergo surgeries she didn't need?

Experts say it's because Dee Dee had FDIA, a mental disorder characterized by a parent or caregiver faking or inducing an illness of the person in their care, most often a child.

Joey King, the actress who played Gypsy, wrote on her Instagram, "This show changed my life. ... I hope our show encourages people to educate themselves about Munchausen by proxy and how serious of an illness it is."

And, so, that's what I've decided to do — educate myself. What causes this disorder? Are there ways to prevent it? Are there ways to cure it? And is there a fate for people prone to this disorder other than what happened to Dee Dee and Gypsy?

According to MedicineNet, care for people with FDIA is difficult, so early detection is imperative in preventing the development of it. While there is no known cause, these are some of the common characteristics of people with or prone to FDIA:

• Is often a woman between the ages of 20 and 40
• Has difficulty forming an attachment to his or her child
• Desires attention and sympathy
• Has anger issues
• Was abused or neglected as a child
• Has history of inducing illness in themselves
• Has very low self-esteem or inflated self image
• Is interested in or knowledgeable about medical details

FDIA affects about one percent of the population — and probably more because those with this syndrome often lie about it. MRI scans of some patients diagnosed with FDIA show abnormalities in their brain structure.

According to the rehab facility Newport Academy, the first step in treating FDIA is, obviously, to "stop the individual’s dangerous actions toward themselves or others."

"Subsequently, psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for addressing the root causes of this disorder."

Some of the approaches recommended in Newport Academy's article are:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, used to change the thinking and behavior of a person by learning to channel negative emotions elsewhere
Family therapy, when family members are also present and learn what they can do and how to stop reinforcing the individual's behavior
• Therapy for related conditions, used to treat associated mental illnesses that the person with FDIA may also have

For me, I would take it a step further and tell anyone who believes that they are even slightly capable of doing these things to seek treatment immediately. Maybe it's only a slight whisper in the back of your head or a small urge that you don't think you could ever act on. Still, seek treatment. You won't get in trouble for feeling the way you do because you haven't ACTED ON IT. And, through treatment, you can find out why you are feeling this way and stop it before you hurt others or yourself.

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