If you're not familiar with the story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, buckle up because you're in for a wild ride. Gypsy Rose was almost 24 years old when she and then-boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn conspired to murder Gypsy's mom, Dee Dee. The crime shook their small town just outside of Springfield, Missouri. But the story that came to light during the investigation rocked the entire country. For her entire life, Gypsy was essentially held captive by her mom, led to believe that she was gravely ill and suffering from conditions like epilepsy, cancer, and paralysis.
Dee Dee controlled every single aspect of Gypsy's life and convinced everyone that Gypsy was incredibly sick and had the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. But none of it was true. Gypsy was sick, or mentally incapacitated, or even paralyzed. It was all part of a rude concocted by Dee Dee, from which she made a lot of money over the years. Dee Dee inflicted years and years and mental, physical, and emotional abuse on her daughter.
Experts now believe that Dee Dee suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, now known as factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA). She abused Gypsy to make her seem sick, to get attention and sympathy for herself. The Blanchard story has been turned into a dramatized series on Hulu called The Act, and the show is shedding light on this rare form of child abuse.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy, or FDIA, is a very rare but incredibly dangerous mental illness. It affects mainly women, and the victims of the associated abuse are almost always children or the elderly. People with FDIA will make up illnesses, injuries, and other serious conditions, sometimes inflicting physical abuse on their victims to make fake illnesses and injuries seem more real.
However, says licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., there have also been cases of a caregiver inflicting psychological abuse on their victim to make it seem like they had a mental illness. FDIA is recognized by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children as a form of child abuse and estimates that approximately 1,000 out of 2.5 million cases of child abuse a year can be attributed to the condition.
The symptoms of FDIA can be difficult to spot and are often mistaken for a perpetrator just being an overly-involved parent. People with FDIA appear overly concerned for their victim and are incredibly cooperative and reliant on doctors, nurses, and other people in the medical field. Warning signs of FDIA-related abuse of a child include excessive hospitalizations (usually with strange symptoms or no known diagnosis), worsening of symptoms or symptoms that do not align with medical test results, and symptoms that improve in a hospital setting but get worse when the victim is in the care of the perpetrator.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard is currently serving a 10-year sentence for the murder of her mother, Dee Dee. In 2018, she said, "I feel like I'm freer in prison than with living with my mom. Because now, I'm allowed to just live like a normal woman". Gypsy will be eligible for parole in 2024.