Why do people fake depression?

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In this article we will try to answer the question “why do people fake depression?”

We will also discuss possible signs that someone is faking depression, what you can do to help them, and what depression is.

Why do people fake depression?

This most probable reason why people fake depression and any other illness is because of the following reasons:

  • To garner sympathy and support
  • To get attention
  • To avoid work and other responsibilities
  • To gain something- like benefits. 

To understand why some people fake depression and mental illness, we need to understand two things- malingering and factitious disorder. 

Malingering refers to a phenomenon where an individual might fabricate symptoms of a disorder or a medical condition such as depression to get away from things such as work, military service etc, as well as to gain something like benefits and drugs. 

Malingering in the case of depression can be difficult to identify because the symptoms of depression are quite easy to replicate, especially if the person knows what depression is. 

Malingering is not a mental disorder since it does not have symptoms however you can identify malingering in people when they do the following:

Their symptoms are not consistent meaning that their symptoms change over hours, minutes, and days. They might be super happy when things go their way only to back track when people notice. 

They might describe the symptoms in exaggerated ways to doctors or in ways that are too similar to the verbatim used in diagnostic manuals. 

The onset of the condition occurs very closely to something that they want to avoid like jail time, or giving an exam etc. 

Individuals who engage in this behaviour tend to abuse the support of other people and the medical system itself, and engaging in fraudulent behaviours such as claiming benefits for their fake depression. 

It is also important to recognize that it can sometimes occur as part of a real disorder such as Factitious disorder.

Factitious disorder is a very real and diagnosable disorder where the individual tends to fabricate and exaggerate the symptoms of a medical condition. 

However unlike malingering, they do not seek to have a motivation to do so such as avoiding or benefits but rather do so just to gain some attention related to the illness. 

Factitious disorders can develop after stressful life events like loss and at times after another illness in hopes that they will garner the same attention and support. 

People with this disorder tend to talk a lot about their symptoms, often in an exaggerated way and are inconsistent with their symptoms. 

They also tend to go “doctor shopping” and see many therapists and claim that nothing works for them. Individuals with this disorder remains completely with a lack of awareness of what is happening to them and why they are doing it. 

How do you know if someone is faking depression?

A few signs that someone is faking depression include:

There is a pattern in which they create drama or tend to fall sick when something does not go their way. They might be in good condition but suddenly become depressed, low spirited, cry or talk abotu suicide and their distress when something is refused to them or when something does not work for them.

They might use these patterns to get what they want ultimately and they tend to behave in these ways almost as if they are doing it intentionally- this could even be for attention and sympathy from the people around them.

Self-harm such as  cutting themselves, but the cuts are superficial, more like scratches and are not deep or does not seem to be done with the intent to harm themselves or commit suicide. 

The “depression” is short-term and tends to disappear in a few hours or a few days. It does not last long and can completely go away when things work out in their favour.

Only depressed about certain things like their relationship or their lack of finances. The depression or hopelessness does not seem to cross over context.

They tend to be regretful rather than depressed about losing things they enjoyed in the past. This could indicate unresolved grief and loss rather than depression however, when this is left untreated could lead to depression

Blaming others for all their problems is another aspect of faking an illness where the individual might use depression to blame others or use it to garner support as a supposed victim of other people.

Passive aggressiveness is another behavioural pattern that is observed where the individual might accuse others of being mean  to them or might use silent treatment to guilt trip others into giving them sympathy etc.

Acting helpless and incapable of doing anything- they might be overly dependent and make other people do things for them by citing their illness and depression.

What can you do when someone is faking depression?

Here are a few things that you can to do help someone if you notice that they have been faking depression:

If they are an adult, it is best if you say or do nothing especially if their “depression” is not affecting your life and in most cases, it won’t.

Calling them out or confronting them, no matter who this person is to you, might make them feel like you do not care about them, you are trying to minimise their struggles, and might even cause negative backlash for you because at the end of the day when someone is faking an illness there is probably a reason. 

However, if you notice that their “depression” is impacting you in the case that they ask you to do things for them because they are “too depressed” to do it themselves and it is costing you your time and peace it would be best to set boundaries with them.

Let them know that while you are there to support them, you also have to take care of yourself first before being able to care for someone else. Let them know that if their depression is causing them distress, you can help them seek out professional help. 

Speaking of which, suggest the possibility of them seeking help without letting them know that you suspect their depression to be fake. If they do get into therapy, it is possible that they will ultimately resolve whatever issue is leading them to fake an illness. 

If they’re a child, do not dismiss what they are feeling even if you suspect them for doing so to get out of school or other activities, as well as when they are exaggerating. 

This could indicate a larger problem such as bullying which is why they do not want to go to school or they might not know what they are feeling and that is causing them distress. 

Take attention when they exhibit signs of depression because it is most possible that children don’t know how to fake depression and even if they do, it is clear signs of seeking attention that they are not receiving from elsewhere- possibly a caregiver or parent. 

Sit down with the child and ask them what they are feeling and let them know that this is a safe space for them to say whatever is on their mind or what they are feeling. 

Empathise with them and validate their distress as well as invite them to explore ways that you and the child can work together to solve the problem. If this does not seek to help the child, consider taking them to a specialist while actively participating in their treatment.

What is Clinical Depression?

Depression or clinically known as major depressive disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders, is a  serious mood disorder where people affected by it experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

Apart from these emotional distress, people with depression can also experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, or changes in their behaviour such as social withdrawal or slowed movements.

For someone to be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Let us look at the various symptoms that must meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. 

What is the criteria for Depression diagnosis?

The Diagnostic and statistical manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed) DSM-V outlines the following criterion to make a diagnosis of depression. 

The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. 

These symptoms should indicate change from normal functioning. 

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day- either by their own observation or observation made by others.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia. 
  • A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. 

These symptoms should also not be the result of substance abuse or another medical condition.

Conclusion

In this article we tried to answer the question “why do people fake depression?”

We also discussed possible signs that someone is faking depression, what you can do to help them, and what depression is.

Is there a fake depression?

Yes, it is possible for people to fake depression and people who don’t have depression do end up exaggerating mood symptoms, or inventing them entirely. 

How can you tell if someone is faking depression?

Signs someone is faking depression include:

  • Short Lived symptoms
  • Exaggerates symptoms
  • Tend to be depressed only when things don’t go their way
  • Uses symptoms to blame others
  • Uses it to garner sympathy and get their way in things

Can you get confused with depression?

Yes, you can experience disorientation and confusion with mental illness because depression has been linked to memory problems, such as forgetfulness or confusion. 

Why do people pretend to have a mental illness?

When people pretend to have mental illness the main intention is to assume the “sick role” so that people care for them and they are the centre of attention.

References

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Schimelpfening. N. How to Know If Someone Is Faking Depression. Verywellmind. Retrieved on 9th February 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/faking-depression-1066887#toc-symptoms

Raypole. C. Think Someone’s Faking Depression? Read This Before You Call Them Out. Healthline. Retrieved on 9the February 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/faking-depression-1066887#toc-symptoms

Kohli.P. 7 WAYS TO DECIDE IF SOMEONE IS FAKING DEPRESSION. Retrieved on 9th February 2022. http://www.drprernakohli.in/2016/10/22/7-ways-decide-someone-faking-depression/

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