*Trigger Warning: Mention of Domestic Abuse*
Family is supposedly the beacon of light in the dark and grim days of their children. But unfortunately for some, their near and dear ones prove to be the devil in disguise.
Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (FDIA), formerly Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP), is a mental illness in which the perpetrators gain attention by making up or causing an illness or injury in a person under their care, such as a child, an elderly adult or a person who cannot attract attention. It is a voluntary psychological disorder.
FDIA is a form of child abuse or elder abuse as the victims subjected to are vulnerable and do not have the necessities to tend for themselves. Such a case emerged in Colorado, U.S.A. in October 2017 when the bucket list of a terminally ill Olivia Gant went viral. When Olivia Gant’s mother, Kelly Renee Turner, was put on trial for filicide, she claimed her daughter suffered from a myriad of diseases. But the death certificate said otherwise.
In light of deeper investigation, it was found that Turner suffered from FDIA and had indeed murdered not one but both her daughters. She abused them, took them to the hospital, and once they were better, the same cycle was repeated.
No particular reason has come to light to date, but according to doctors, it may be linked to problems during the abuser’s childhood. These problems might involve ignorance and a toxic domestic household. Abusers often feel like their life is out of control and are often subjected to low self-esteem, inadequacy, stress and anxiety.
The attention that caregivers get from having a sick child or an elder may encourage their behaviour. They may get attention not only from doctors and nurses but also from others in their community. For example, neighbours may try to help the family in many ways, such as doing chores, bringing meals or giving money.
The treatment for FDIA involves child protective services, doctors and law enforcement. Caregivers who have this condition require long-term counselling. They may resist treatment or deny that there is a problem. Medicines are used only when the caregiver has another health problem, such as anxiety disorder along with FDIA.
Even after treatment, caregivers are prone to repetitive behaviour. Hence, doctors, counsellors and family members must closely watch how the caregiver interacts with their children or elders.
For victims, the first step is to protect them is by moving them into safe custody. Then a doctor will monitor the victim for symptoms. Most of the time, the victim’s symptoms stop when they are away from the caregiver. However, some victims need counselling or other help.
Written by Rishita Sengupta