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Technology and society

Chhavi Sachdev
Podcaster and Independent Radio Producer/Reporter
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Friday, 25 January 2019

Munchausen Syndrome — The Weirdest Mental Ailment You've Never Heard Of

Why would anyone fake an illness? Well, sometimes to skip school or work or an engagement, right? You say you're ill when you're not. But what about people who either make themselves sick or seek medical treatment when they *know* they're not ill?

This episode of SYSK looks at a mental illness called Munchausen (pronounced either munch-how-zen OR moonk-how-zen) Syndrome in which people fake a medical condition. But why would they do this? And what exactly does it entail?

These people are not hypochondriacs who believe they're ill. These folks *know* they're not ill, but they still want attention, support, and treatment — to the point where they will go as far as showing up at a hospital or clinic, having all kinds of tests done, being poked and prodded, even trying various medicines. There are extreme cases where they have done things like inject themselves with poison or salt to *become* sick. One person even liked to cut himself and then smear human waste on the cut to ensure it would become infected and then go for treatment.

I first heard about Munchausen Syndrome on the Danish/Swedish TV show Bron (The Bridge) in which one of the characters recognizes it in a suspect, but with a variation: Munchausen By Proxy, in which a care giver makes someone, usually a child, sick and keeps rushing them in for help and attention. On the show, I learned there is yet another variant: Munchausen By Internet, in which people concoct detailed symptoms and diagnoses that they share on forums and blogs. The case studies shared on the podcast will boggle your mind. Truly a worthwhile exploration into how far people will go for attention.

While looking into the history of Munchausen Syndrome, how the first diagnoses were made and whether the methodology was robust, the hosts also get into the legal and social ramifications of calling it out if you suspect it. It made me shudder all over again. 

Munchausen Syndrome — The Weirdest Mental Ailment You've Never Heard Of
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