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Ask Dr. DombeckAsk Dr. Dombeck:
Psychotherapy and Mental Health Questions

Lying About Illness

Tue, Jun 1st 2004

I have a friend who claims to suffer from serious medical afflictions, primarily chronic kidney failure (culminating in the removal of her kidneys and bladder in 2002) and cancer (as a result of experimental medication she took related to the kidney disease). She has also had numerous illnesses (too numerous to mention) related to her condition or treatment thereof. Over the years I have known her, I (along with other acquaintances) have become increasingly suspicious of her claims - she has never allowed anyone to accompany her to the various hospitals, no one has ever met her doctors and she has been caught in several small lies. I am now 99% convinced that she is not as sick as she says she is, if at all. More recently, she began to suffer depression (she said that her adrenal glands had begun to bleed leading to a cortisol imbalance) and told me that she had been suicidal several times. I do believe that she may be depressed - she is very manipulative and her past behavior has engendered hostility from many of her colleagues/acquaintances. Her 2 closest friends (one of whom, I recently found, had similar doubts) have moved away and so I am her only friend at the moment. I am worried about what she may do, although it has entered my mind that she may be using this for manipulation. I have no idea how to handle the situation - I don't even know whether she is aware of her behavior. I'm not sure I could directly confront her - not only do I worry about exacerbating her depression, but I find confrontation very difficult. Also, going by past arguments/discussions, she adamantly refuses to admit she is wrong in anything, and reacts by "shutting down" and refusing to respond. I would appreciate any advice you could give on how I should deal with her in order to get her help.

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