A word about mentally ill people on health-related websites

If you’re new to the Internet – or new to health-realted websites due to a new diagnosis – you might not have any experience of the mentally ill people who sometimes use health-related websites. As I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2000 and T2 diabetes in 2002, I have had a few encounters with these folks on-line. They have always been with us; the advent of the Internet gives them an easily accessible, anonymous forum for interacting with potentially millions of new folks who are often unaware that they’re being used and manipulated to feed a mental illness.

If you want to know what kind of lengths people will go to in order to get social attention around health and illness, please Google the following conditions (I’ve given you the wiki for each as a starting place if you’re interested):

Münchausen Syndrome

Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Factitious disorders

Histrionic Personality Disorder


The bottom line for me is a healthy, polite skepticism. When people have fantastic tales of woe that don’t seem to add up with the medical literature or the experiences of the vast majority of people with a disease or condition, or which seem to be ever-shifting and seeking endless sympathy and attention, the person in question may not, in fact, be ill with the stated condition (or have a child who is ill with the stated condition) but may in fact be mentally ill and engaging in attention-seeking behavior. Ditto the person who claims to have found a cure for an incurable disease “that the doctors and drug companies don’t want you to know”, or to have secret, insider knowledge about great evil conspiracies lurking within the medical profession, etc.

One red flag is a very self-pitying “I can’t believe how mean you’re being to me” reaction to any skepticism, legitimate questions or reluctance to jump on-board the fantasy wagon. As with most attention-seeking behavior, negative attention is just as “satisfying” as positive attention – doing battle with eight or nine people at the same time over some outrageous claim they’ve made is wholly satisfying to them. They don’t have to receive positive attention in order to meet their emotional goals.

Word to the wise.

I learned the hardway about ppl like that. Sad to say but what you said is very true.

I once ran into someone posing as a nurse (all over the web, same lady).
When I informed a forum manager of this (and other people did as well), he had the nerve to throw me out and call me all sorts of names. She duped him, but good.

If they’ve been at it for a while, they can be very skillful at manipulating people. At least you have the satisfaction that you tried to do the right thing.

Not us, we are all normal except for pancreases and various other organs. Oh wait, the brain is an organ too, isn’t it?!

Yes, and mine has been called many things, but never normal. ;0)

OH, and I forgot…she was also giving incorrect advice to diabetics on the board as well.
The woman was severely dangerous.

I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

I remember how angry I was when I had melanoma and I would try to Google for information and get a fire-hose in the face of charlatans, fake “cures”, people selling super-expensive flakey herbal creams, magnets, shark parts, clinics in Mexico, etc. etc. etc.

I was so relieved when I found PubMed. I swore I wouldn’t look at another website besides a reputable medical site after that – if it wasn’t peer-reviewed research conducted by PhD scientists, I wouldn’t look at it. It made me feel so much better to just block out all the crooks and creeps.

Can you imagine coming up with the “bright” idea of trying to sell fake cures to people with a life-threatening disease? Other than physical assault, or abusing children or old people, I can’t think of anything much worse than cravenly profiteering on the desperately ill.

Oh, I didnt listen to her but at least one diabetic who was newly diagnosed was coming to me asking me if the lady was correct or not. She knew I had type I for 40 years, so she knew I was educated enough to let her know this woman was dead wrong!