Ill for sympathy & attention

Freiherr von Munchhausen was a famous story.-teller who used to entertain the guests with the tales of his adventures during the Russo-Turkish war. This fictional character recounted impossible achievements which include pulling himself out of the bog with his own hair and traveling to the moon.

This literary model bestowed his name to one of the life-threatening factitious disorder known as ‘Munchausen’s Syndrome.’ Characterized by the invention and fabrication of syndromes, it is a psychiatric disease in which a patient presents himself to seek attention or sympathy for their exaggerated or made up symptoms. The motivation is to acquire a ‘sick role’. These symptoms are faked but even induced sometimes by injecting harmful bacteria, infected materials, detergents or through tourniquets.

A patient, whose name was never disclosed in the studies, used self-harm as a child to cope with isolation and abandonment. This behavior, as she stated, was to avoid the sexual abuse as ‘when I was sick, my abusers would leave me alone.’ This self-damage mounted to Munchausen syndrome and she started to focus more and more on injuring herself. She would go to great lengths to feign illness, such as injecting herself with feces, exposing herself to bitter cold to become frostbitten, swallowing detergents or adding blood to urine samples to cause abnormal test results.

Being sick had become a way of life and I was unable to stop. The rewards were just too great.

Her self-inflicted damage brought severe consequences: she had to remove her bladder and she went to ICU due to a septic shock.

‘For the first time, I found myself really scared that I might die’.

She had been fortunate as she realized the dangerous path she has been leading and vowed, then, to start her life again. Psychotherapy helped her to recover further and she went anew for a healthy and better life.

However, there exists another mental illness in which the deception doesn’t involve themselves but someone under the person’s care. This is known as Factitious Disorder Imposed On Another or Munchausen syndrome by proxy. In this case, an individual can deliberately make a second person ill without his or her knowledge to have that special attention reserved for the ill and their families.
This is often done to someone who they are in charge of, as an elderly family member or child. In the recorded cases, the parents that frequently fake Munchausen by proxy are mothers.

A person with FDIA uses the many hospitalizations as a way to earn praise from others for their devotion to the child’s care, often using the sick child as a means for developing a relationship with the doctor or other health care provider. The adult with FDIA often will not leave the bedside and will discuss in medical detail symptoms and care provided as evidence that he or she is a good caretaker.

Most known cases of FDIA:
The story of Marybeth Tinning and her nine dead children. Between 1967 and 1985, eight of her children died under suspicious circumstances. The rumors circulated that Tinning family suffered from ‘death gene’ as each child died within months.
Finally, she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years of life. Last year she was released from the prison after serving more than 31 years of her 20-years-to-life sentence.

Another recent case is of the blogger Lacey Spears who was convicted of the murder of her 5-year-old Garett Spears. Lacey documented the health struggles of her son in the blog garnettsjourey.blogspot.com. Garnett suffered from severe ear infections, high fevers, seizures, and digestion problems induced by her mother who was blogging, at the same time, about his hospital trips. She was found guilty on account of murdering her son ‘by poisoning him with table salt, which she had administrated to him from infancy through his feeding tube.’ Social media seemed to become a place of attention and sympathy for her.

Spears fed her son lethal amounts of salt and conducted Internet research about the effects salt would have on the boy.

In another heartbreaking case, 40-year-old Kathy Bushy intentionally sickened her child and made her go through 40 pointless surgeries.

Marc Feldman explained another case of Mrs. A who joined an online community where she claimed to have five children and one of these children, she said, suffers from gastroesophageal reflux and celiac disease. As came out, this whole thing was a ruse and Mrs. A. was actually a 21-year old woman with no children whatsoever.

This can be defined as Munchausen by Internet as people join the support groups and make up a story to get sympathy. It is becoming more common because of easy online access. People don’t have to go from one emergency room to another to convince about their illness; they can fabricate anything behind the screens.

Gypsy endured more than two decades of meritless hospitalizations and treatments for illnesses

However, the most famous case of Munchausen by proxy is of Dee Dee Blanchard who eventually ended up brutally stabbed by her own daughter. She made everybody believe that her daughter, Gypsy Rose suffered from leukemia, asthma and muscular dystrophy. Dee Dee made her daughter pass as disabled and chronically ill with a mental capacity of 7-years-old. She made her went through unnecessary surgeries, medications, and occasionally psychological and physical abuse. Fed up with the abuse, Gypsy and her new boyfriend murdered Dee Dee.

It was not because I hated her. It was because I wanted to escape her- Gypsy Blanchard

Explaining the extreme behavior of these mothers, Marc Feldman, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Alabama said,

These mothers tend to be psychopathic. They don’t experience guilt and they lack empathy.

He, further, noted that the number of people who fake diseases in the hospitals is usually higher than estimated but the doctors often do not realize that they are being deceived or they, simply, do not confront the patient fearing the consequences or being insensitive or bad-mouthed.

However, detection and treatment for this disorder are vital. The treatment is often complex and includes long term psychological recovery. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help to change the thinking and behavior of that individual.

They believe that having an illness will make them feel special. Patients who are diagnosed with the syndrome are almost always found to be struggling with something — perhaps depression or a traumatic childhood. They need help. But for whatever reason, they cannot admit this to others and so they use illness as an excuse to reach out for emotional support- Gregor P. Yates

Mental illness: error & profit

Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic — Thomas Szasz

History is full of bizarre events filled with wild beliefs and strange practices. Science hasn’t remained immune when it comes to getting influenced by the socio-cultural views of the time. But being wrong is a part of science, right?!

Let’s dig into some examples narrowing down to the lane of the medical field. One of the commonly known ones is classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Then, people were pathologized because they failed to comply with the authority. Let’s not forget that political disobedience would have been enough to send someone to an asylum. Women had been diagnosed as hysterical for having sexual urges.

Lobotomy, a wise method invented by professionals to treat schizophrenia, depression, and backaches. Sadly, this procedure created memory loss, more mood problems and once even lead to death due to the brain hemorrhage.

Now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em
That I got no cerebellum
— The Ramones, “Teenage Lobotomy”

Dysaesthesia aethiopica, an example of scientific racism that explained the laziness among slaves. This is how it’s founder explains it- “much more prevalent among free negroes living in clusters by themselves, than among slaves on our plantations, and attacks only such slaves as live like free negroes in regard to diet, drinks, exercise, etc.” — indeed, according to Samuel A. Cartwright, “nearly all [free negroes] are more or less afflicted with it, that have not got some white person to direct and to take care of them.”

Let’s listen to his cure: The best means to stimulate the skin is, first, to have the patient well washed with warm water and soap; then, to anoint it all over in oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the sunshine.

Alas, he didn’t think that sickness might exist in the way that the structure of society than in the head of poor slaves.

Fortunately, most of these ridiculous practices have been recognized as pseudoscience. This happened not necessarily due to any scientific evidence. Biology played little to no role whatsoever. Like in the case of homosexuality, it was declassified in 1973 due to the pressure from activists.

Still, we are becoming ‘sicker’ and there are few and few people left who aren’t having any disorder. Those thoughts and feelings that were considered normal previously are deserving a diagnosis now. Normal behavior is being diagnosed as a mental disorder.

DSM, the bible of psychiatry has listed over 300 disorders and some of these can be very misleading. Oppositional defiant disorder, as it is the one who argues with the authoritative figures and denies or refuses to comply. Bingeing, eating a large quantity of food in a short time is also considered an illness now. Disruptive mood dysregulation, a disorder that turns temper tantrums into mental illness. The periods of sadness, or worry, grief, drinking too much caffeine or having caffeine withdrawal are pathologized today. These normal trials of life have been accepted as illnesses and are being propagated by ‘experts’.

The writing is on the wall. ‘Normal’ badly needs saving; sick people desperately require treatment. But DSM-5 seems to be moving in just the wrong direction, adding new diagnoses that would turn everyday anxiety, eccentricity, forgetting, and bad eating habits into mental disorders. Meanwhile, the truly ill would be even more ignored as psychiatry expanded its boundaries to include many who are better considered normal- Allen
Frances

When it comes to diagnosing mental illnesses, there are no medical tests, no scans, no bloodwork, no physiological tissue damage that can diagnose anybody with a mental disorder. Summing up, there is no laboratory measure. So, DSM plays a huge role as the most commonly used manual by clinicians to diagnose any illness. Recently there have been many protests against psychiatry and against its bible. Many of the diagnoses included can label normal people and encourage inappropriate medication use. This brings a rise in the prescription of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.

On a per capita basis, inflation-adjusted retail prescription drug spending in the U.S. increased from $90 in 1960 to $1,025 in 2017.

Millions of Americans are being labeled as mentally ill. Prescriptions for antidepressants have tripled in America in the last decade while prescriptions for scientific drugs used to treat anxiety, bi-polar, ADHD, and a myriad of other psychiatric illnesses in infants, children, and adults are increasing exponentially across America. (Blummer and Marcus, 2009). To combat these diseases, daily doses of dangerous and addictive psychiatric drugs are being prescribed. Follow up study on people who take stimulants show the shrinkage in their brain, addiction to the tranquilizers and shortening of the lifespan in case of sedatives. People who have prescribed the sedatives for the life-long period are predicted to have their life cut short up to 20 years.

‘ The scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug- say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant — and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder.’ Robert Whitaker

Labeling people or stigmatizing the human experience as mentally ill can’t bring some hope. Having problems in life is normal but one shouldn’t label it or try to earn from it. But the reports are indicating the opposite. The pharmaceutical industry is profiting from mental healthcare and even distorting psychiatry practice. One of the pitfalls of science that shows the desperate need to fill in.

It has nothing to do with biology. It has to do with power and control and what we think is appropriate or not appropriate behavior- Toby Watson

Quote

Internet’s folk hero

“Think deeply about things. Don’t just go along because that’s the way things are or that’s what your friends say. Consider the effects, consider the alternatives, but most importantly, just think.”

Aaron Swartz, an internet legend, it’s own boy — a tech genius. Dropped out of school at the age of 14, he earned an early success as a programmer. He developed Reddit at the age of nineteen and took a turn toward political activism devoting his short life to the idea of free internet.

He was against the corporate influence. He believed that ideas should be freely available on the Internet favoring the free access of all sources. Academic publications are bound within the notions of copyright. Information published in the scientific and cultural field are digitized and monopolized by few private corporations. These large corporations, he wrote, are ‘blinded by the greed’ and the restricted access is a ‘private theft of public culture’.

Scholarly researched literature which is funded by taxpayers is available to only some well-known universities in the developed world. The general public would have to pay a subscription fee to go through an article. In 2013, Aaron was a research fellow at the Harvard University which provided him an access to the JSTOR account. JSTOR is a digital library that contains full-text research of almost 2,000 journals on various disciplines. He downloaded a close to two-thirds of the JSTORE archive through the MIT computer network (which can be equivalent to the subscription fee of fifty thousand dollars). This lead to his capture and an eventual trial. Federal prosecutors charged him with a ridiculous 35 years sentence in prison and a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fine. However, the plea bargain was offered which Swartz and his attorney denied in the end.

Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar and whether you take documents, data or dollars- Carmen M. Ortez, U.S. Attorney & Prosecutor of Aaron Swartz

On 11th January, two days later, Swartz hanged himself with his belt in a New-York apartment leaving no suicide note behind. Contrary to the idea that he was depressed, his family members and near ones claimed that he has been indirectly killed by the government. His girlfriend Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman wrote,

“I believe that Aaron’s death was not caused by depression…I say this because, since his suicide, as I’ve tried to grapple with what happened, I’ve been learning. I’ve researched clinical depression and associated disorders. I’ve read their symptoms, and at least until the last 24 hours of his life, Aaron didn’t fit them.

…I believe Aaron’s death was caused by exhaustion, by fear, and by uncertainty. I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a persecution and a prosecution that had already wound on for 2 years (what happened to our right to a speedy trial?) and had already drained all of his financial resources. I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a criminal justice system that prioritizes power over mercy, vengeance over justice; a system that punishes innocent people for trying to prove their innocence instead of accepting plea deals that mark them as criminals in perpetuity; a system where incentives and power structures align for prosecutors to destroy the life of an innovator like Aaron in the pursuit of their own ambitions.”

Aaron Swartz was a significant part of the free culture movement. He was fighting furiously to make the information accessible to everyone. Restriction over valuable research in developing countries seemed intolerable to him, “Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.”

This meant that researchers and doctors treating patients with cancer or other diseases in remote regions of Africa could not access complete articles that describe the latest results in the treatments even if the research is done locally.

And if you decide to pay, you won’t know the article is relevant as the abstracts don’t always make it clear enough what is contained there. And restricted access journals are also prone to spurious results. You might cover the costs to read a peer-reviewed journal but receive some junk crafted by long technical phrases. Predatory and ‘unacademic’ articles are, overall, building a real obstacle in scientific development. For instance, an analysis done by Gopalkrishan Seethapathy and colleagues from the University of Oslo judged 350 journals (published in the year 2015–2016 alone) as predatory. In brief, prestigious and restricted sites aren’t completely flaw-free.

Coming back to Free-culture movement, it doesn’t concern academic publication exclusively but targets the restriction over music, art, and software industry also. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation shared his opinion by stating,

Works of practical use should be free. Works regarding points of view should be shareable but not changeable and works of art or entertainment should be copyrighted.

Maybe we do need a free access to research done by our predecessors in order to appease our curiosity and as an initial point for our own discovery. Just like they used the knowledge and discoveries of others to build themselves up. Openness helps in the discovery.

Standing on the shoulders of the giants.