Munchausen syndrome by proxy is having an unexpected moment—at least on television. The medical disorder, which manifests when a person “acts as if an individual he or she is caring for has a physical or mental illness when the person is not really sick,” according to the Cleveland Clinic, has appeared in a number of shows and movies in recent years. It has anchored the twists of HBO’s thriller series Sharp Objects and Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 film Phantom Thread. European shows, including The Bridge and the BBC Three’s Clique, have also included Munchausen in their plots.
The rise in the depiction of the disorder arrives at a moment when an increasing number of types of mental illnesses are being portrayed on television, and even familiar diagnoses are being portrayed in more nuanced ways. Characters on several highly-acclaimed shows have reckoned with mental health issues: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) navigated life with Borderline Personality Disorder; on Girls, Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; and Aya Cash gave viewers a brutally honest look at clinical depression as Gretchen on You’re the Worst.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy is different from these conditions in that it involves the abuse of someone else, typically a person who is trustful of their caregiver. Its official diagnosis is “Factitious disorder imposed on another,” and though the term “Munchausen by proxy” carries controversy in the medical community, the condition is widely known by the latter term. Most recently, the disorder and its often tragic effects were dramatized in The Act, a Hulu series that takes on one of the most significant and sensational real-life cases of the disorder.
The series, which recently concluded, tells the true story of Dee Dee Blanchard and her daughter Gypsy, played by Patricia Arquette and Joey King, respectively. Gypsy was thought to have a litany of illnesses, some of which required her to use a wheelchair. Using her child to garner sympathy and charitable donations, Dee Dee used the medical knowledge she’d picked up through prior experience working as a nurse’s aide to convince others that she knew what was right for her daughter’s care. Gypsy grew up believing she was ill, until she discovered, at 19, that she was not actually sick at all. Before that point, Gypsy’s attempts to rebel against her mother were quashed by Dee Dee. Their life together and …
Source:: Time – Entertainment