Factitious Disorder: Why People Fake Serious Illness

Factitious Disorder: Why People Fake Serious Illness


[INTRO] Did you ever fake being sick as a kid? Maybe you were just such a goody-two-shoes
that your parents didn’t think you’d actually lie. Maybe you had it down to a science: run the
thermometer under hot water in the bathroom sink, do some jumping jacks, get hot and sweaty,
and then climb back under the covers and put on your cutest pout. Or maybe you were lucky enough to actually
get your Hogwarts letter and you always kept a Skiving Snackbox or two on hand. If so, I’m super jealous. In any case … why’d you do it? To get out of a test? To avoid that big presentation? Because your parents always made you a giant
ice cream sundae on days when you were feeling lousy? That’s what’s known as malingering: faking
symptoms of illness for some sort of clear material benefit. But for people with factitious disorder, faking
illness isn’t quite so straightforward: they fake symptoms of illness and take on
the role of a sick person, but they do it without obvious external motivation. Historically and in pop culture, it’s usually
called Munchausen syndrome, after a 17th century baron who had a thing for embellishing stories. People with this disorder do all sorts of
things to pull off the ruse: they might lie about their medical history, fake test results,
even cause physical harm to themselves to make it look like they have a disease or condition. They can end up doing things that are pretty
extreme, which is probably why the disorder has shown up in almost every medical drama
on TV. But for the people living with it, the consequences
can be a lot more severe than like a scathing tongue-lashing from Dr. House. In one study that followed 20 people living
with factitious disorder, four of the subjects died because of disorder-related behavior. And even if people with factitious disorder
don’t harm themselves in the process of faking their symptoms, they can still be harmed
by unnecessary medical procedures or find themselves bankrupted by medical bills and
missing work. There’s a variant of this disorder that’s
even worse: people diagnosed with factitious disorder imposed on another fake symptoms
in another person, usually a child or an adult dependent. In those cases, the first step is to protect
the victim, usually by removing them from the care of the person with the disorder. By now, you’re probably wondering why would
anyone go to such lengths to seem sick. Well, psychologists have wondered that, too. It’s worth noting that most of the research
on factitious disorder comes from case studies. It’s hard to find subjects for an empirical
study, because if patients won’t admit they’re faking — and most of them won’t — the
only way to really prove it is with their medical records. And that violates patient confidentiality. Still, a lot of cases have been documented,
and the consensus among researchers is that the goal is to assume what they call a “sick
role.” Think about the last time you were sick. How did your friends and family treat you? I’m sure feeling sick wasn’t fun, but
the way other people treated you was probably kinda nice. We have different social expectations for
people who are ill. They’re often given more attention and sympathy,
and other people try to help them out. That treatment is what people with factitious
disorder seem to crave. People with the disorder are also generally
experiencing psychological distress, and faking physical symptoms can be a way to get attention
and care. But even though faking the symptoms might
be conscious, the motivation behind it and that psychological distress are usually unconscious. Case studies show that a lot of people with
factitious disorder experienced childhood trauma, illness, loss, or neglect. It is possible to treat factitious disorder. Seeing a therapist to talk about the underlying
distress can help. The biggest problem is diagnosing the disorder
in the first place. It’s a tricky balance: obviously doctors
don’t want to perform risky procedures on people who don’t need them … but they
also don’t want to withhold them from people who do. There are clues to watch out for, though. For example, people with factitious disorder
often have hopped from doctor to doctor. They tend to be pretty calm about scary symptoms,
and they’re willing to undergo some serious procedures. And a lot of the time, all those tests and
procedures … just don’t do much to help. Of course, there are also people who fit that
description who are not faking. So, it’s complicated. Even once it’s clear that they have factitious
disorder, confronting patients doesn’t always work. Studies have shown that only 15-20% of people
with factitious disorder will admit that they’re faking. Most of them just go find another doctor. The best approach seems to be to offer an
alternative that will encourage the patient to seek psychological help without having
to admit that they faked their symptoms. They’re told that while the doctors work
on their condition, a psychologist might also help them get better. That way, their therapist can work with them
on understanding the underlying distress that caused them to seek the “sick role” in
the first place. And hopefully, eventually, they will stop
needing to fake it. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych, and thanks to our patrons on Patreon for helping us make this show. To learn more, and get cool rewards like access
to a monthly livestream with the crew, you can go to patreon.com/scishow. And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishowpsych
and subscribe!


100 thoughts on “Factitious Disorder: Why People Fake Serious Illness

  1. my father has this disorder , and its very disturbing . He started taking 3 tablespoons of salt everyday saying it helps with his constipation and now he has enlarged heart and other heart problems . He also took medication for parkinson and now he has become a bit crazy …

  2. I love science and I hate to do this but I have to unsub from all scishow channels as long as they are linked to you and your brother after your support of harassment, bullying, and lies at VidCon this year. I am also disliking this video on those grounds not anything wrong with the video itself.

  3. But once they get their foot into the mental health care system, won't they just start faking psychological disorders?

  4. When you have insecurities about your own personality so you wonder if you have factitious disorder but you don't wanna seem like you're faking something cuz that's terrible but what if you DO have it and you just don't know but you know you're not faking your anxiety disorder because this internal conversation is giving you anxiety but is that just self induced or is this anxiety about not having anxiety actually factitious disorder acting up or is it your anxiety boiling to the surface well i guess we'll NEVER KNOW HUH???

  5. I'd like to know is factitious disorder just a new name for hypochondriasis? If not, how are they different?

  6. I wonder if there is any correlation between factitious disorder and narcissistic personality disorder? In pondering that, I mean that I wonder if those with NPD are more likely to exhibit symptoms of factitous disorder.

  7. I had to deal with someone like this for 6 months. He faked a rare blood disorder and cancer. his research was astonishingly thorough and he was very smart. He could tell me textbook definitions of his illnesses and understood all the interworkings of them. He even knew who the only specialist in the state was that treated his disorder. He shaved his head and his body to simulate chemo symptoms. He made small incisions in his chest and side to simulate biopsy sites. In the end he even drilled a hole in his scalp to simulate a burr-hole to relieve cranial pressure. He didn't want anything material from me, he wasn't getting any benefits from work, and it really seemed like an overall burden to him. I was his support network for 6 months before I could prove he was faking it; but although I think part of him knew it wasn't real, I think that overall he had genuinely deluded himself into thinking he was sick.

  8. I used to have factitious disorder, not really sure where it came from, buy I knew that if I were sick or acted ill people would treat me well. I used to act like I had autism or Asperger's syndrome because I wanted to feel different and if I did something wrong, people would know I am mentally ill and not judge me. I was able to overcome this disorder by myself somehow. Most people fake mental illness or illness in general for attention as I admitted to myself years ago, I did it for the attention even though I was a shy kid I wanted some sort of attention from parents and friends. I feel like I got the disorder from being isolated and unable to really make good friends so I wanted someway to make people nice to me without them even attempting to hurt me emotionally.

  9. sadly-people with chronic illness (esp rare, severe, or difficult to reat disorders) are often eventually abandoned by friends and family for a whole host of reasons (not that any of them are acceptable)-its a very common topic in support groups for various illnesses…and so very sad. Sometimes it gets so bad that the sufferer is mentally abused by those who supposedly "love" them, often being accused of being malingerers and the like,

    Those supposed indicators that you mention, all apply to many chronic and rare conditions, because finding treatment is so difficult. "dr shopping" as that one is called-is a necessity when your current dr has eitehr a) no clue whats wrong with you, or b) hor to treat it (or both). Drs are so busy now that 9 times out pho 10, they wont help you find an appropriate specialist. so you have to just keep trying, sometimes picking at random.

    I just friggin hate the "attitude" of teh patient issue too. If i am in chronic pain and i act like its no big deal-then i may not be believed to be in pain at all. If i cry and scream and beg for pain pills-then i am seen as making it up as well….you cant win. This can happen with nay symptom or condition of course, but since you cnat do much to prove pain, its one that is particularly common (that and teh DEA and their dumbass regulations…)

    Lastly-yeah if i am suffering horribly, i am prtty likly to be willing to undergo a whole host of tests and proceeedures…people typical wants answers, and preferably sol.untions as well. and medicine is VERY far from perfect in reating the myriad of things that can go wrong in the body.

  10. Goin through public housing systems victim of munchausen syndrome my whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn't till I grew up now I blew up makes you sick to ya stomach doesn't it.

  11. The real question is: why isn't anyone taking psychological illness seriously? Very noticeable in the academic circles…

  12. I'm pretty sure Münchhausen Syndrome by Proxi has been medically discredited, and I do know that at least a few people have been wrongly convicted of poisoning because of it.

  13. Hank you ended by saying you hope people won't have to need to fake being sick anymore.
    Hank I don't think you meant to say you hope they get sick so they don't have to fake it.
    Hank I think you meant to say you hope they don't feel the need to be sick anymore.

  14. Is this different than hypochondria? Like, is it a different diagnosis if the person believes that they are ill rather than deliberately fakes it?

  15. I saw something about this in the Sixth Sense and was curious as to the details behind it, since things in movies usually aren't presented with perfect accuracy. What does it mean to say that the motivation behind faking an illness is unconscious? Does that mean that they do not realize that they want sympathy and attention?

  16. It's important to note that this is still a disorder. People often try to claim that unhealthy people, especially people with mental disorders, are "just doing it for attention" in order to invalidate any struggles that the person may be having, but the fact is that those kinds of behaviors are still an indication that the person is not healthy even if they're not happening for the reason that one would normally think of them as happening for. Healthy people don't feel the need to go to such extreme measures just to get some attention.

  17. Lately, have often wondered if am hypochondriac and/or experiencing this factitious disorder. Problem is, when getting to the eldar years, a lot of additional medical problems DO arise, and eventually factitious disorder symptoms become real health disordars. For several years, was told by my GP doctar that blood tests werr showing mild anemia, low Vit D, othar puzzling symtoms of unknown cause. Recently went to endocrinologist who ordared more extensive tests that show hormone levels are way off, and potential celiac disease. Still, suspicious some symptoms are quite possibly psychosomatic.

  18. When I was little I barely lied about being sick because I knew that I couldn't trick anyone and I was sick a lot anyway. The few times I did fake it was after I got over an illness and just wanted another day at home.

  19. When I was in high school I couldn't quit vomiting and doctors kept thinking I was making myself vomit, which I wasn't. I ended up having severe stomach pain as well and I finally saw a doctor that was able to help me and advised me to sleep at an elevated level to my stomach acid wouldn't keep on seeping up into my esophagus and between that and some pills they gave me my body was able to heal itself in time and everything was fine.

  20. So basically attention seeking and quite honestly especially strange behaviors of people that i have seen over the years seem to come from that: Like the girl that ate (foam) mattresses or the guy that ate bricks.

  21. Doctors here think that I faked my symptoms, bcs I have gluten- and lactose intolerance, and they don't believe in it. I mean, they don't believe that those things exist -.-'

  22. What's dangerous is you could be someone like me, I was actually physically ill and the damned doctors kept throwing psych meds at me. Turns out that prolonged brain damage that goes untreated for years makes you act just a wee bit crazy and kills your optic nerve, which turns you FREAKING blind. Welcome to world of hydrocephalus.

  23. You never mentioned why people would fake illnesses in other people, though.
    I have a friend with an absolutely horrible mother who forces all these mental illnesses onto him (and succeeds in some cases due to the sheer mental trauma it causes) and I have absolutely no clue why.
    Sure it can be explained with "the mother is mentally unwell herself", but what does she gain from it?

  24. Honestly, when I want to fake illness, I usually just raise my body temperature. Never figured out how I do it, I just kinda focus on it, and it happens.

  25. I don't have factitious disorder but soon going to have it 😜😜😜
    It's fun getting attention 😆😆😆
    Keep telling about such nice disorders Scishow psych 😘😘😘

  26. My 'friend' has facetious (I'm 100% postive) whenever we talk about anxiety (which me and three of my frieds have) or depression (which I have)he startes to get angry and say he has all these random things. He took paracetamol to get rid of a headaxhe and said if he didn't take it he could die (he was serious) he always claims he has 'important medication' in his bag (which he doesn't) and when we were talking about glasses, which most of us who were talking about it had, he claimed he had even though he said he never had them before, and when I asked him what prescription he said the one every one has. And other things that I can't be arsed to mention.

  27. Only it sucks because when you have an invisible chronic illness it seems like you’re often held to the same standards as healthy people regardless of how shitty you feel

  28. Its the opposite in my country. People, specially women, gets sick, but lie…because it annoys other people and causes family members to abandon them. Its called–assholism.

  29. I.e. binging and purging for attention results in damage to vegas nerve results in gastroparesis and autonomic disorders but refuses to manage with diet and healthy eating habits insists on finding a doctor to place a feeding tube. Now patient is also dehydrated which is unacceptable with placement of feeding tube insists on placement of central venous line for hydration and nutrition. Doctor shops for treatments surgeries etc. Parents are enablers for dysfunction. Family tires out and refuses to visit in frequent hospital stays. Medical illness and hospital stays can be avoided but patient and family do things that cause ER and hospital visits. Patient and family look happiest on social media when they can post pictures of them at ER, hospital, or doctors office or receiver new DX. Consider themselves medical professionals without going to medical school. Burn people out around them for constant demand for attention, sympathy or pity. Refuse practical help because they are truly just attention seeking. Profess to be championing a cause but again just attention seeking. END RESULT IS DEATH OF PATIENT and BLAMING EVERYBODY OUTSIDE THIS DYSFUNCTIONAL CIRCLE.

  30. So who the hell deleted this highly informative and factual video and some of the comments??? I’ll tell you who Pyre Eight on YouTube! Guess this hit tooooo close to home for them?!

  31. How is this different (if it is different) from Illness Anxiety Disorder (AKA formerly "Hypochondriac Disorder")? I know that IAD patients genuinely believe they're sick and nobody can convince them, is there any form of deliberateness in Factitious Disorder?

  32. First of all, what I'm going to write now is not directly about this video, but more generally about the way factitious is usually presented. I've always taken issue with the fact that factitious is only described from an external point of view (sort of like: "how to spot someone with factitious disorder), instead of explained from the Inside, i.e. the emotions and thought patterns, the feelings, that may lead someone to act that way (emotions, thought patterns, feelings, what any mental illness is about, roughly.) I do understand there is an apparent lack of studies on the subject. I just think the whole category ("factitious disorders") is poorly conceptualised. Also, the "lack of control" aspect is never stressed, leading people to think factitious is just some hobby anyone could decide to engage in. If that is acceptable to the medical community, that something classified as a mental illness should be some sort of activity a person has full control over, DECIDES to bring upon themselves, what does it say about the way mental illnesses are viewed in general? (yes, it just adds to the whole "get yourself together" "you're lazy" "you're not willing enough" bullsh** Gee, an illness is an illness and when we actually discover more and more about the brain we might find the barriere between "physical illness" and "mental illness" to be much thinner than what was innitially believed…And what makes an illness, whichever it is, is precisely that it is something beyound one's control) Now I DO believe that factitious is a real disorder and not some bizare, selfish hobby, and I do believe there is a "lack of control" aspect, some sort of emotional and/or cognitive struggle that leads to such a behaviour. That's what should be stressed as the symptomes, because those would be actual sympotmes, not just external signs. That's what makes an actual disorder. Sure, "underlying psychological issues" are often mentioned, all right, but it remains very vague. There might be more specific emotions/thought patterns (specific to the condition), and just like in any other disorder (or most of them), there might be "steps", "stages". It might take a whole lot of internal struggle and developpment before you actually end up in a hospital room having had an organ removed. Yeah, just my two cents..

  33. people with chronic and rare diseases often get pegged as someone who is faking by many doctors. Its truly horrible to be told that when you are suffering! I have HAD TO hop from doctor to doctor because some dont believe me, and others dont know how to help. I have been willing to undergo scary procedures because I have tried so many other things, and am willing to try ANYTHING to feel even slightly better. And I tend to be calm talking about this stuff, because I have already been through so much, and getting worked up about things makes me feel worse.

  34. Do the patients even know that they're faking it, or is it just extreme hypochondriasis where they truly believe they're sick but that nobody believes them? I imagine if they feared that they were sick but had no visible symptoms, they might try to prove it in order to get the help they think they need.

  35. My mom was a nurse in the 80s, and she told me about a patient she had with factitious disorder who had been injecting feces into herself to cause infection. I think she ended up losing a leg or something…. serious business

  36. My mother has this , it's impossible to live with and makes me cringe because I can see she is faking it . How are you supposed to deal with this when she is in denial about any of her behaviours .

  37. Parents called me out the first time I did it. They didn't mind since I was such a good kid anyway… so… Hogwarts, anyone?

  38. Netflix has a video out now called' Afflicted' it's about these individuals, it is unbelievable. The families are crazier than the fakers they support the delusions.

  39. Welp….I'm pretty sure every child does that to stay away from responsibilities and / or get more attention…. I had that when I was younger but now I'm pretty fine xD

  40. I have just been told I have factis disorder and have been faking systoms of disassociate identity disorder. How do I stop.

  41. My mom has been working in the medical field for 25+ years. So I could never fake being sick, but it didn't matter. I was always actually sick.

  42. There's a lady that I know who seems to have this as she even has a fake service dog too….its really sad but what's creepy is she gives off a really bad vibe and she manipulates people to feel bad for her but also to the point she puts people in a position of "a rock in a hard place" it's such mind games…sad really

  43. someone I know displays symptoms just like these…
    she's told me literally 5 separate times she has cancer, just to relish in the attention, then nonchalantly never bring it up again and actually told me that I was lying to them, about them when I finally called her on it…
    She once again claims to have cancer, as well as a large number of other disorders, (even D.I.D split personality). She refused to allow me to attend, or even drive to her last Dr appointment.

  44. I know people really do suffer with various disorders, but I have a hard time with accepting some cases unless really presented with facts due to the mother and son "rip off artists" living next door who use this disorder, along with cancer/fibromyalgia/OCD(and other various issues)…and they have been getting state benefits for 15-20 years(without having to work). Also they are highly critical of others to the point past "friends" have virtually disappeared where now their social life is zero(no one visits & they don't socialize). If you speak to them, you're bombarded with how "the whole world has done them wrong & they can't trust anyone anymore". They go and come(drive) without issue & I don't understand why they aren't working- but they can sure take off when the mood strikes them. Must be nice. (P.S.)…. Hypochondriacs are champs at this game….

  45. Finally found what I have, I just want to come clean with it to everyone. If anyone says this is fake then faking having this would make me have this disorder am I right?

  46. I honestly don't understand. I mean I'm more of the lick my wounds in private when I don't feel well and am now notorious for not telling my friend while chatting with her via text I was in the hospital. I hate people being in my space and feeling vulnerable. But different strokes for different folks.

  47. ik this girl who could be a Factitious Disorder or just a plain ass pathological liar don't know which one

  48. I think my father have this Factitious disorder, he use to create sympathy on him self by saying i going to die in 2 years, but he is healthy and happy. Day by day it become too worse , to create sympathy he started to say my wife and son are very bad, keeping his face so sad, he always want to be in center of attraction. His syndrome causing me so many troubles, i don't know what to do. If any one know how to tackle him pls tell me.

  49. I’ve lost the majority of my family to cancer, so when my friend told me he had cancer and it had metastasized to other parts of his body, I immediately panicked and then stepped up to help him. Then I found out from his family he had been lying to me and our mutual friends. He wasn’t after money but thought we would only stay his friends if he was sick. We were all his friends already but this has destroyed that. When I found out he had been lying I was angry but more so concerned bc he must be hurting so much emotionally and/or mentally to make such a lie. I told him I would still be his friend but he would have to tell everyone he told the truth. He did not so I did. This happened just recently and I don’t know where to go from here. He was my best friend; now I’m not sure if we should be friends at all.

  50. I had a friend who would say she had lung cancer, she would go as far to pretend to not be able to breath, miss school to say that she was undergoing chemotherapy, she would even rip hair out her head and put it on the hair brush to scare us when we went to her house, when we found out she was lying she changed schools and literally vanished off our social group, pretty crazy

  51. Hehe if only u saw people’s stories on my Snapchat 😂😂 cough cough fake depression cough cough 😂😂🤦‍♀️

  52. This whole video made me go oof

    When I’m sick people leave me alone more often. Even with my mental illnesses I feel like no one cares and thinks I’m faking it. The only one who takes my mental health seriously is my therapist and sister. I can’t believe people who fake illness for attention because it takes away from the people who really have them. Which is why when I say I have a mental illness people brush it off and think I don’t. It’s horrible..

  53. So, one time I hit my wrist on the wall softly, (it was to scare my mum) so, I told her and I told her that the pain was extreme. (Even though it wasn’t.) so she took me to the hospital and it turned out my wrist was actually broken lol

  54. I’m genuinely chronically ill & I have been since my teens. I’m kinda jealous of people who get a “sick role” that they enjoy without the physical symptoms I suffer. You can’t enjoy the extra attention when all you can think about is how much pain you’re in & people tend to get pretty blasé about your suffering after the 1st couple of years anyway. Plus factitious disorder sufferers can just decide to act like a treatment is working if there’s something physically demanding that they want to do. I doubt it’s a fun disorder to have but it sounds better than actual physical pain & illness… I was accused of “malingering” before my diagnosis

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