Three stories of mass psychogenic illness from around the world

Found a bunch of articles that share a theme…

Is it something physical or sociological going on here?

In this case from Zambia, one girl in a school prompted several other students to react.

‘Pupils’ fainting incidents spiritual’.

The Lusaka District Education Board (DEBs) has confirmed receiving a report on bizarre fainting incidents at Northmead Secondary School believed to be spiritual.

DEBs education secretary Joe Kamoko said a girl at the school has since been suspended and will not be allowed back until her parents deal with her spiritual problem.

Since school reopened this year, some Northmead Secondary School pupils have been fainting simultaneously as if in a trance.

When they re-gain their consciousness, the visibly terrified pupils claim to see spiritual beings apparently calling them to move to the ‘other side’.

The students report that demons attack people everyday. The issues that come up here seem to be a clear case of conversion disorder, not unlike the case from the Leroy, New York school last year. The article does suggest that things got quite out of hand in this school. It appears the instigator may be getting treatment but considering the superstitious talk in this piece, I’d be concerned she was getting any psychological help she needed.

In Australia, there is another case of mystery fainting.

Mystery mass fainting.. at mass |

NO-one knows exactly what caused eleven people, mainly teenage girls to faint and become sick during a mass at a Sydney church early today.

Ambulance officers were called to Our Lady of Dolours Church on Archer St, Chatswood at 9.45 to treat a young girl who had fainted but when they arrived they found a number of people in a distressed state.

Most were suffering dizziness, nausea, and having trouble breathing.

Reports were that it was a bit stuffy inside the church. When one person begins to experience symptoms, that leads to contagion. I have experienced the same. When someone reports they feel nauseated or ill, the people around may also become hypersensitive and suddenly feel the same. No gas or trigger for the illness was found at the church. It would appear to be psychosomatic.

Finally, this one is a bit more plausible from a chemistry lab at a Pennsylvania college.

Dozens of students hospitalized from ‘adverse reactions’ after chemistry class experiment  – NY Daily News.

Dozens of students were rushed to hospital after suffering mysterious adverse reactions – including nose bleeds and trouble breathing – to a routine experiment during a chemistry class.

More than 30 people were taken ill during the freshman lecture at Villanova University in Radnor, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday afternoon.

Details of the experiment, and the chemicals that were used in it, have not yet been revealed.

It began when one student fell ill and experienced what was described as like an asthma attack but with a nose bleed. She was taken to the ladies room and then others started to feel the same trouble breathing. No source of the illness was found. Again, looks like a common theme runs through these stories. Mass hysteria, collective obsessive behavior, mass psychogenic illness, conversion disorder. We fail to recognize how susceptible we are to suggestion. We also may be pretty helpless to stop it.

For more:
Skeptic’s Dictionary: Mass Hysteria

Mass Delusions and Hysterias: Highlights from the Past Millennium – CSI.

Science-Based Medicine » Mass Media Attention Psychogenic Syndrome – MMAPS.

Other cases labeled mass hysteria from Doubtful News.


  2 comments for “Three stories of mass psychogenic illness from around the world

  1. Chris Howard
    February 23, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    I always wondered if symptoms were cultural specific, and subjective while the underlying disorder was objective.

    I’ve heard (grain of salt) that people from Micronesia and the carribean manifest different symptoms to PTSD, than do “westerners”

  2. macdoktor
    February 23, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    “Details of the experiment, and the chemicals that were used in it, have not yet been revealed.”

    I can’t imagine what chemicals they would allow in a chemistry class today that could even cause a reaction. When I took Chemistry II as a summer class in 1979, we had none of that modern safety equipment: no fume hoods or fans of any kind, nothing but old clothes and goggles. Anything that couldn’t be flushed down the sink went into a large crock pot in the back of the room. One day we walked in and discovered a fog floating a couple of feet off the floor. We opened the windows, aired the room out and went back to work with our open test tubes of aqua regia slowly releasing chlorine into the room.

    Somehow we survived all that. No nosebleeds, no fainting. That time we refilled the ammonium hydroxide bottle just about did me in, though. And I had nitric acid stains all over my hands all summer.

    You try to tell young people today that…

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