What is Munchausen syndrome by proxy? Dee Dee Blanchard's disorder in 'The Act' explained
17 April 2019, 13:00 | Updated: 17 April 2019, 16:10
Hulu's The Act explores the real-life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother Dee Dee, who had Munchausen syndrome by proxy. But what is it exactly and what happened between the mother and daughter?
True crime series, The Act, premiered on Hulu in the US on March 20, 2019 and since its release, the show has sparked an entirely new interest in the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother Dee Dee.
On-screen performances aside, The Act also highlights a psychological disorder called Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Dee Dee Blanchard, Gypsy Rose's mother, reportedly had Munchhausen syndrome by proxy which caused her to fabricate Gypsy's physical wellbeing.
Here, we explore what exactly Dee Dee's disorder is, the signs and symptoms, and whether there's treatment available.
What is Munchausen syndrome?
According to the NHS, Munchausen syndrome is "a psychological disorder where someone pretends to be ill or deliberately produces symptoms of illness in themselves."
The name derives from German aristocrat, Baron Munchausen, who also featured in a novel created by writer Rudolf Erich Raspe. The baron became famous for telling wild stories about his military career and exploits. He allegedly threatened to sue Raspe, so the author's name was only associated with the work posthumously.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a rare form of child abuse, which occurs when a parent or carer exaggerates or deliberately causes symptoms of illness in the child.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Typical signs and symptoms of Munchausen syndrome include:
- Pretending to have psychological symptoms, like hearing voices or seeing things that aren't there.
- Pretending to have physical symptoms, like chest pain and stomach aches.
- Actively trying to get sick by deliberately infecting a wound, etc.
Those with Munchausen syndrome can be manipulative and even undergo serious operations, even though surgery is not necessary.
What causes Munchausen syndrome?
It is unclear why those with Munchausen syndrome behave the way they do. Research and case studies have suggested that individuals may have suffered emotional trauma or illness during childhood, they may actually have a personality disorder, or they might hold grudges against healthcare professionals.
Is there treatment for it?
As knowledge about the syndrome is scarce, there isn't a set treatment for those who show signs of Munchausen syndrome.
Some experts lean towards approaching these individuals gently, suggesting they seek psychological help or refer them to a psychiatrist.
Others believe it should be confronted directly and those with Munchausen syndrome should be asked why they've lied about the symptoms and having an illness.
Those with Munchausen syndrome tend to lie about physical illnesses, but refuse to acknowledge mental illness. It can be extremely difficult for healthcare professionals to help those who have Munchausen syndrome, for this reason.
Is The Act based on a true story, who is Gypsy Rose Blanchard and why did she kill her mum Dee Dee?
On June 14, 2015, the Greene Country sheriff's department received a call that Dee Dee's body had been found, facedown in bedroom at her house near Springfield, Missouri.
Dee Dee had suffered multiple stab wounds, which were inflicted a few days before her body was discovered. Dee Dee had claimed her daughter, Gypsy Rose, who had vanished from their home, suffered from leukemia, asthma, muscular dystrophy and other chronic conditions.
Neighbours notified the police about possible foul play, and noted Gypsy's wheelchair and medication had been left inside the house. At first, they believed Gypsy Rose had been abducted.
Gypsy Rose was found the following day by police in Wisconsin. She had travelled with her boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn. Upon inspection, the police discovered that Gypsy did not have any of the conditions her mother had claimed she had - both physical or mental - and this discovery led to public outrage, as many had been manipulated to feel sorry for Blanchard's daughter over the years.
As the investigation went on, more details about the relationship between the mother and daughter were uncovered. It was revealed that Gypsy had been forced by her mother Dee Dee to pass herself off as younger, in order pretend she was mentally disabled and chronically ill. She was also subjected to potentially life-threatening operations - all of which were completely unnecessary.
Dee Dee had suspected Munchausen syndrome by proxy, which meant not only was she lying about her own health, she was afflicting physical and psychological abuse on her daughter.
As time progressed, it became clear that Dee Dee had in fact been murdered by her daughter Gypsy Rose's boyfriend, and Gypsy was an accomplice. According to reports, Godejohn was let into the house by Gypsy Rose and they waited for Dee Dee to return from a hospital appointment. When Dee Dee fell asleep, Nicholas - who was given duct tape, gloves and a knife by Gypsy - then stabbed his girlfriend's mother while Gypsy hid in the bathroom.
The pair then had sex in the house and took around $4,000 from Dee Dee, before fleeing the crime scene.
Gypsy, who later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Nicholas is currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder.
Hulu's The Act, which stars actress Joey King, explores the lives of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose, and the events which led to the matricide.