How easy is it to fake mental illness?

It's probably not as easy as you think – but determining when someone is faking is also notoriously difficult.

Top image by JustCallMe_♥Bethy♥_ via flickr

In a fascinating piece for BBC News, Sam Judah looks at recent examples of people who have faked mental illness – whether to absolve themselves of heinous crimes or to demonstrate the overly-porous nature of mental institutions. For instance:

In the last few decades, diagnoses have become more accurate, but in the past techniques were much cruder. An experiment in the early 70s exposed several problems in the system.

Psychologist David Rosenhan instructed five healthy people to pretend they were experiencing hallucinations and try to gain access to psychiatric hospitals across five US states.

All of them were admitted and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, at which point they began acting normally again. Slowly, all negotiated their release from the institutions under the condition that they admit to being mentally ill - most receiving an official diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Hearing about the experiment, staff at one teaching hospital were convinced they couldn't be duped so easily. They challenged Rosenhan to try again, pledging to detect any malingering subjects he sent them.

Over a three-month period, the hospital claimed to have found 41 imposters and a further 42 suspects, from a total of 193 cases. But Rosenhan confessed he hadn't sent a single "patient".

Read the rest at BBC News.