When Someone Is Faking Illness for Attention, How Can You Help Them Get Treatment for Factitious Disorder?

As confusing as it can sometimes be, we can open our minds and hearts to loved ones who need care for mental health disorders. Rather than dismissing someone who is faking illness for attention, you can consider the distress that may be present under the surface. If they have factitious disorder, they need early treatment to prevent serious physical, mental, and emotional harm.

Our minds all work in different ways. We process our experiences and cope with challenges the best we can. When someone has factitious disorder, there is likely underlying abuse, neglect, loss, abandonment, or other trauma at work. They are dealing with this pain in the way that makes sense for them at the time. You may be able to distinguish when their illnesses and symptoms are not real as they claim to be sick and need help.

When you see that someone in your life is faking illness for attention, don’t be so quick to dismiss their pleas for help. If they have factitious disorder, they need urgent mental health treatment. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing their pain and isolating them further in their distress. Now is the time to help your friend or loved one turn a corner and transform their pain into strength and hope.

The Act of Faking Illness for Attention Is the Symptom of a Serious Mental Health Disorder


You may be more familiar with the name Munchausen syndrome, but in current mental health terms, it is called factitious disorder. Someone with factitious disorder seeks attention through perceived physical distress. They may fake their own illness, sometimes going to great lengths to create the appearance of symptoms, to research medical conditions, to alter medical records, and to fabricate stories about their experiences. In some cases, they may cause injury to themselves or otherwise induce illness in order to be worthy of attention in this particular way. They may even attempt to bring harm to another person or fake that person’s illness (Munchausen by Proxy) if it will bring the attention they seek.

Even before digging under the surface, we can expect that someone with factitious disorder is seeking to fulfill certain emotional needs that they are not able to meet elsewhere. In the mind of someone with factitious disorder, these are the routes to achieve the concern, care, and love of others. This unique logic is a symptom of the disorder. And because it is a disorder ruled by deceit, it can be difficult to diagnose and to treat. When left untreated, symptoms of factitious disorder can worsen and it’s possible that someone will inflict more serious harm on themselves—not to mention the consequences of undergoing inappropriate medical procedures for the illnesses they may claim.

Although they may not need the kind of medical care they ask for, they do need clinical treatment. Unfortunately, it is often hard for someone with the disorder to understand and accept that their true illness manifests in this particular way. Understanding and acceptance can start with those of us who know of and care about those suffering with factitious disorder. We can help them to access compassionate treatment for their symptoms and for the underlying pain and trauma.

It’s critical that they see a mental health expert who can help to correctly diagnose this and any other co-occurring disorders. Depression commonly occurs alongside factitious disorder and can complicate the symptoms and recovery outcomes if left untreated. Some clients with factitious disorder also present with other personality disorders, and it’s important that they receive early and comprehensive treatment.

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You Can Help Someone Get Treatment for Factitious Disorder


It’s not always the case that attention is bad. But certain kinds of attention can be helpful whereas other kinds of attention can enable the disorder, thereby delaying or preventing recovery. In the age of the internet, people can publish stories of their harrowing injuries and illnesses without the responsibility of backing up those stories. They can easily gain the attention of thousands, who will shower them with support and solidarity. It may seem that they’ve discovered the perfect pharmacy for the medicine they seek. But this generous, misguided attention is enabling their mental health disorder. And the attention is not healing the pain and trauma that lie under the surface, feeding the disorder in the first place.

In contrast, when someone can receive appropriate treatment for factitious disorder, they can begin to transform their thought patterns. The best treatment approach is patient and non-judgemental. A physician should be involved to assess for any real physical distress or self-injury. Mental health professionals can help guide the client through compassionate therapy to help them better cope with fear and stress. In time, someone with factitious disorder can develop an honest, healthy relationship with those around them and their own bodies.

If you think someone has factitious disorder, your own first step is to understand their complicated feelings and their real needs. It can be vulnerable territory to approach their faulty logic before they are ready to accept reason. Fortunately, you can reach out to mental health experts at any time for advice and guidance on your next steps. Remember that factitious disorder goes beyond cognitive confusion; your friend or loved one could be in real danger of further mental and physical harm. In the end, they can discover the love and care they truly seek—attention for who they really are under the surface.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.