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Do factitious disorders disqualify you from drawing benefits?

A factitious disorder is a condition where patients consciously and deliberately act as though they have an actual mental or physical illness, but they really do not. At face value, it would seem that would disqualify them from drawing Social Security benefits. But it is a bit more complicated than that.

A factitious disorder is a form of mental illness and is often accompanied by additional mental disabilities or emotional difficulties. Personality disorders are often a co-diagnosis.

Those with factitious disorders go to great lengths to create an illusion of illness or debility. Patients harm themselves on purpose, change results of tests, e.g., contaminating specimens and exaggerate or outright lie about their symptoms. But their motivation is not monetary gain. In fact, they will often undergo very expensive medical tests and treatments, including unnecessary surgeries, that can land them deeply in debt.

What is their motivation?

Although it can be hard to fathom, many do this for the attention they receive from caregivers, family and loved ones during their convalescence. While the jury is still out on the cause, scientists theorize that past histories of childhood hospitalizations, neglect or abuse can trigger the condition in adults.

In what forms do they manifest?

Some are strictly physical factitious disorders, such as Munchausen syndrome. Patients complain of odd sequences of usually unrelated symptoms that disappear and re-emerge sporadically. The patients frequently have medical histories collated from a series of different physician's offices and hospitals.

Others appear to be solely psychological in nature. Sufferers may claim to hear voices, see hallucinations and behave bizarrely.

Some present with odd collections of both physical and psychological symptoms that are not rooted in actual disease pathologies.

Because factitious disorders are rooted in mental illness, it may indeed be possible to qualify for Social Security disability benefits with this diagnosis. However, they may be difficult to prove. An in-depth psychological or psychiatric evaluation is often needed, and a person who strongly believes he or she has physical ailments may resist. An attorney who handles Social Security disability cases can provide additional insight when pursuing a claim.

Source: WebMD, "Factitious Disorders," Joseph Goldberg, MD, accessed July 07, 2017

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