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The 6 factors of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Mental health in women: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?


1) What is Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a mental illness and a form of child abuse. The care-giver of a child, usually a Mother, either produces fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to falsify claims of the child being sick, thus seeking attention.

2) What causes Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

There is no exact cause that has been identified however, there has been research surrounding the roles of biological and psychological factors in its development. Some theories suggest:

  • A history of abuse or neglect as a child
  • The early loss of a parent

These may be factors in MSP’s development. Some evidence also suggests:

  • Major stress (for example: marital problems) can trigger MSP.

3) What are the behaviours in Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

  • A Mother or other carer who convinces their child that they are ill when they are perfectly healthy
  • A Mother or other carer who exaggerates or lies about their child’s symptoms
  • A Mother or other carer who manipulates test results to suggest the presence of an illness. (For example: putting glucose in urine samples to suggest the child has diabetes.)
  • A Mother or other carer who deliberately induces symptoms of illness. (For example: by poisoning her child with unnecessary medication or other substances.

4) This is a fabricator/induced illness – How common is it?

The British Paediatric Surveillance Unit (BPSU), which is a specialist unit that assists research into rare childhood conditions, carried our a study of FII cases. It identified 97 cases of FII in the UK over a two year period.

5) What motivates these acts?

The motivation is not fully understood however, in cases where the Mother is responsible there could be an element of the Mother enjoying the attention of playing the ‘caring mother’. There is also a large number of Mothers that have had a previous history of unresolved psychological and behavioural problems. This could be:

  • Self harming
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Experienced the death of another child

6) Looking forward: What is the treatment?

The first priority is to protect the child. This may involve removing the child from the care of the person who is responsible. There can be a situation whereby the child is in hospital therefore, it may mean removing the parent from the ward. Once the child is safe, it maybe possible for the Mother/carer to be treated.

However, Mothers/carers are difficult to treat, as most do not admit to their problem and refuse to admit to their abusive behaviour. Therefore, in many cases, the child is permanently removed from their care.

Sources: Webmd.com and Nhs.co.uk

This is an issue that is on-going and is not easily treatable as many cases are different. However, what can make a difference is some-one close supporting a Mother/carer who have developed MSP. The six factors above may help you recognise or realise someone close to you may be going through this, or in fact you may recognise these behaviours within yourself.



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