Almost everybody had heard of the sad story of Bethany Storro who claimed that she was attacked by a woman who threw a cup of acid in her face. She credited her sunglasses with saving her eyesight and appeared oddly calm about the whole episode. In other countries around the world such heinous attacks occur by perhaps using battery acid or industrial chemicals.
However, it was recently revealed that Bethany made the whole story up as a “hoax” and she may face prosecution due to wasting the police’s time, to say nothing about the potentially strong emotions that the case may have stirred up as Bethany said that her fictitious attacker was African American. But one big question remains, why did she do it? Especially since she no doubt was in pain from the burns and potentially could have lost her eyesight.
Quite possibly Bethany is suffering from a condition called “Munchausen Syndrome.” People with this psychological condition have a compulsion to invent medical conditions and seek care for them, or, as in the case of Bethany, actually cause harm to themselves so that they receive attention from doctors and nurses. Many people with this condition also have had multiple surgeries in an attempt to treat symptoms which are entirely fabricated.
The condition is very difficult to treat, though the fact that Bethany admits that she did in fact douse herself with acid could indicate that psychotherapy could be helpful in her case. A psychiatrist could treat any depression Bethany may have with antidepressant medications, but in Bethany’s case there is the danger that she could hoard the pills to help her invent a new illness months or years later, and overdosing on the medication is a real concern.
Patients with this disorder will often not want to see a psychiatrist, when referred by their primary care physician, and may no longer see a doctor who believes that their condition is being faked.
A related psychiatric condition, called “Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy”, occurs when a parent intentionally harms their child in order to gain the attention of nurses and doctors who will care for the child. Such a parent might poison his or her child to produce a bonafide illness, and they may continue to fake the child’s illness while he or she is in the hospital by tampering with their food, medications, or by heating a thermometer to make it look like their child has a fever.