During my internship at our college hospital,we had conducted a free medical camp for school children. There were many students, hence we asked them to be in a queue, and we were examining them one by one. The first student we examined told that she has headache, abdominal pain and vertigo since morning. The same clinical features were presented by almost all students! When our professor reached there, he scolded us for allowing other students while dealing with one case. “If you take case this way, you will be getting same symptoms among all”, he said in a rough voice. Then we allowed only one person in the cabin and we got difference in the symptoms!
Once I was attending a wedding ceremony. When the ceremony was about to begin, the bride's elder sister collapsed, followed by the other three family members. Most of us thought that it is due to some food poisoning. Immediately somebody took them to a nearby hospital, and believe me, they all returned home within one hour with a smiling face!
You might have heard of similar incidences, specially among school children and women, mainly during public gatherings and functions. In the news paper also we come across a group of people giving the same complaints after taking same food or medicine. If there is no definite cause, mass hysteria may be the cause for this phenomenon. The mouth to mouth publicity and over-consciousness of health play a major role in doubling the severity of mass hysteria. Usually, doctors are the victims of mass hysteria and the media always takes the benefit.
Mass Hysteria is also know as Collective hysteria, Group hysteria, Mass psychogenic illness or Collective obsessional behavior. It is a considered as a socio-psychological phenomenon in which similar hysterical symptoms are manifested in a group of people. The victims strongly believe that they are suffering from a particular disease or affected with same kind of toxic substance or noxious influence. The usual story is, one person starts complaining of certain group of symptoms and others also show the same symptoms. The commonest symptoms in Mass hysteria include nausea, muscular weakness, vomiting, vertigo, abdominal cramps, headache, dim vision, unconsciousness and convulsions. This phenomenon is more among females, school children, and during communal feedings and social gatherings. Occasionally, mass hysteria may be related with witch-hunts, black magic and some superstitious believes.
However, care should be taken to prevent the over-diagnosis of mass hysteria, because, conditions like food poisoning, gas tragedies, medicinal reactions and epidemics are also common nowadays. Hence, immediate medical attention is needed to diagnose the actual reason. It is easy for a team of experts to distinguish mass hysteria from a real sickness or poisoning. In mass hysteria, no plausible cause is found and the symptoms are ambiguous. There will be rapid increase of cases with abrupt remission of symptoms. But, sadly, before reaching a final diagnosis, the news is spread in the media due to the high market value of sensational journalism!
Considering this phenomena, we doctors should always take some precautionary measures while conducting medical camps. Do not encourage on-the-spot administration of medicine; ask the participants to take the medicine next day onwards or only after reaching home.
Dr Muhammed Rafeeque, BHMS, PGNAHI.
Family Homoeopathic Clinic