Someone's been building a case that the open discussion of her health conditions points to Munchausen syndrome.

By Renee Cherry
February 13, 2020

Jameela Jamil has proven she's not afraid to put people on blast, especially if they're posting sponcon for Flat Tummy tea or appetite-suppressant lollipops. Most recently, it's a conspiracy theory rather than diet culture that has her fired up. The rumor? That the actress has Munchausen syndrome. (Related: Jameela Jamil Called Out a New TV Show Where Judges Decide If Contestants "Deserve" Plastic Surgery)

Writer Tracie Egan Morrisey, a writer who's written for The New York Times and Vice among other pubs, has an Instagram story thread dedicated to her theory that Jameela Jamil has Munchausen syndrome, a condition in which someone acts like they have a health problem when in reality they've caused their own symptoms. The thread includes a lot of screenshots from interviews with Jamil and social media posts. Based on the screenshots, Jamil has spoken about suffering a concussion, being involved in car accidents, having Celiac's and food allergies, having labyrinthitis (an inner ear disorder), suffering from breast cancer, and having an eating disorder while working as a model. Morrisey maintains that she's picked up on discrepancies in Jamil's interviews. (Related: Jameela Jamil Helped Instagram Create a New Policy On the Promotion of Weight-Loss Products)

In response, Jamil defended that she's genuinely experienced the health conditions. "First I'm lying about my sexuality, now I'm now being accused of munchausens?" she tweeted. "By an unhinged idiot who didn't even realize in all her 'research' that my car accident injury stories are 'different' because they were about TWO SEPARATE CAR ACCIDENTS 13 years apart? You can keep it." In a resulting thread, Jamil went on to clarify details about her health history.

Between Morrisey's deeply involved thread and all the responses to Jamil's posts on Twitter, it's a lot. If you're more interested in learning about Munchausen syndrome than falling down that rabbit hole, here's what you should know.

What is Munchausen syndrome?

Munchausen syndrome, now referred to as factitious disorder, is "a disorder where someone repeatedly and deliberately acts as if they have a physical or mental illness when they are not actually sick," says Jennifer Dragonette, Psy.D., executive director of Newport Academy in Northern California. "Someone with Munchausen syndrome may lie about or fake symptoms and even hurt themselves to bring on symptoms." They're generally motivated by a desire for the attention that comes with being sick, not a desire for money, notes Dragonette.

Not everyone does it to themselves, though. Munchausen by proxy (aka factitious disorder imposed on another) is a variation of the condition in which a guardian or caretaker projects conditions on the person they're caring for. This may sound familiar: A famous name associated with Munchausen by proxy is Dee Dee Blanchard. Blanchard acted as if her daughter Gypsy Rose had leukemia and muscular dystrophy when, in fact, Gypsy wasn't sick. (This case became so famous it's been the subject of many TV specials and an HBO documentary called Mommy Dead and Dearest.)

How common is Munchausen syndrome?

Mental health experts consider Munchausen syndrome to be rare, but there's no reliable estimate of how many people have it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Part of the problem is that it's difficult to diagnose. "Munchausen syndrome is challenging to identify," says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a neuroscientist in New York. "Most symptoms at first are related to physical illness such as chest pain, fever, headache, or stomach problems." Not exactly dead giveaways, considering the myriad other illnesses that share those symptoms.

"Also, people with Munchausen syndrome will fake sick, alter test results, and pretend they have other illnesses," says Hafeez. "It can be hard for the doctor to diagnose the mental illness because the patient is deceitful, and they have to rule out all other diseases first." (Related: Jameela Jamil Just Revealed She Has Ehlers–Danlos Syndrome)

How is Munchausen syndrome treated?

Diagnosing Munchausen syndrome is only half the battle. It's also difficult to treat. "After examining all other possible illnesses, doctors can diagnose a patient with Munchausen syndrome," says Hafeez. "Psychologists and psychiatrists will run a series of assessments at this point to confirm the illness."

Treating Munchausen syndrome is a matter of altering the way the person thinks and acts, says Hafeez. "The doctors will do this through two types of therapy: psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy."  The interventions aren't considered cures for the condition, just ways to help manage it.

As for whether Jamil has Munchausen syndrome? Her interviews over the years aren't going to hold the answers. And it's not really the internet's place to say.

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