The Act: One Mother's Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy Explained

Hulu’s biggest current hit, The Act, highlights the story of Gypsy Rose and her mother Dee Dee Blanchard. Gypsy, who was 19 when her story broke, spent her childhood in and out of hospitals and emergency rooms. She was confined to a wheelchair and was also bald. Dee Dee was an extremely attentive caretaker, tending to Gypsy’s every need until her body was discovered one hot June night. Gypsy, purported to have “the mind of a 7-year-old”, was nowhere to be found.

Gypsy and Dee Dee Blanchard. Via Inverse

After her arrest, Gypsy revealed that she was a mentally competent 19-year-old woman. She could walk freely, knew that her mother lied about her medical symptoms, and felt trapped by Dee Dee. Out of desperation, Gypsy made a plan with her then-boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn to murder Dee Dee and escape together. It was clear Dee Dee Blanchard had suffered from Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome. Although it is rare, Munchausen By Proxy can be deadly in its worst cases.

What Is Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome?

Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome (MBPS) is a mental health condition involving a caretaker and those for whom they care. It’s closely related to Munchausen syndrome, in which a person believes themselves to be ill and may even cause injury or harm to themselves in order to justify medical treatment. When that medical paranoia is transferred onto a child (or another dependent), it is considered MBPS. The Cleveland Clinic has the most current information on this condition, which is now being renamed Factitious Disorder Imposed On Another (FDIA).

These children might spend years in the hospital. Via FBI Law Enforcement

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 explains FDIA is not common. However, its effects can be lasting. Children raised by parents with FDIA are often physically and emotionally scarred for life. Their dependence on and devotion to their parents may mean they don’t seek help even if they suspect their caregiver has FDIA. The only recommended treatment is to separate the caregiver from their dependent.

RELATED: Psychological Disorders Baby Gets From Mom

Signs Of Munchausen By Proxy/FDIA

Adults who struggle with FDIA are often considered attention-seeking. They may even publicize their child’s supposed conditions, although this is not common amongst sufferers. Parents might seek frequent medical attention, hopping from doctor to doctor until they are satisfied with the course of treatment. Some doctors report parents with FDIA rarely show appropriate levels of concern with their child’s worsening health. Often they seem unworried - or even excited - to see their kid sick.

Inappropriate reactions to bad news is a huge red flag in parents. Via Videoblocks

While FDIA/MBPS is a mental health condition, the dependents are severely impacted by the disease. Healthline explains FDIA is also a form of abuse. Children often show multiple signs of abuse by MBPS.

Signs Of Abuse By Munchausen By Proxy

The Cleveland Clinic details classic victim signs of Munchausen By Proxy.

  • The child has a history of many hospitalizations, often with a strange set of symptoms.
  • Worsening of the child's symptoms generally is reported by the mother and is not witnessed by the hospital staff.
  • The child's reported condition and symptoms do not agree with the results of diagnostic tests.
  • There might be more than one unusual illness or death of children in the family.
  • The child's condition improves in the hospital, but symptoms recur when the child returns home.
  • Blood in lab samples might not match the blood of the child.
  • There may be signs of chemicals in the child's blood, stool, or urine. 

What Causes Munchausen By Proxy/FDIA?

Most people with FDIA have developed some form of attachment disorder stemming from childhood. As you might expect, most of those with FDIA are women, specifically mothers of their own victims. Often they have an insecure attachment to their own parents, citing a sense of neglect or parental absence. Many FDIA-sufferers survived abuse during their own childhood, often in the form of sexual abuse. Invariably a mother's mental health impacts her baby. A 2005 study in the UK found almost all people with FDIA suffered a death or severe family illness before 20, some while pregnant.  That’s statistically significant when compared to their peer group (1 in 7 lost a family member before 20). In some way, these people learned from an early age that seeking medical help will catch their parents’ attention when nothing else works.

See more Munchausen By Proxy in Sharp Objects. Via Popsugar

While Dee Dee Blanchard may be the most famous sufferer of FDIA, she is far from the only one. Later this year, Hope Ybarra will be released from prison. She is currently serving a 10-year sentence for the abuse she inflicted on her own daughter since birth. Hope, a chemist, stole pathogens from her workplace and injected them into her child to cause her illness. Dee Dee and Hope are just two of many mothers who are putting their own kids in harm’s way due to mental illness. Will The Act help us prevent or better treat Munchausen By Proxy? Let’s start the conversation to protect these innocent children.

NEXT: Munchausen By Proxy: Facts & Warning Signs


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