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Mass Psychogenic Illness

By on July 31, 2012 in Health, Lifestyle with 0 Comments

What is mass psychogenic illness?

Mass psychogenic illness occurs when groups of people (as a class in a school or office workers) start to feel unwell at the same time although there is no physical or environmental reason for getting sick.

How common is mass psychogenic illness?

Mass psychogenic illness has existed for centuries around the world and in many different social environments. No one keeps track of these outbreaks, but are likely to be much more common than we think.

What is the cause of an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness?

Many outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness start with a “trigger” environment. The environmental trigger may be a bad smell, a suspicious-looking substance or other factor that makes people in a group believe they have been exposed to a germ or a toxin.

When an environmental trigger makes a group of people believe that may have been exposed to a hazardous substance, it is possible that many of them begin to experience signs of illness at the same time. They may experience headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness or a choking sensation. In some cases, a person gets sick and then others in the group also start feeling unwell.

Why do people who experience mass psychogenic illness feel unwell?

Think about how “stage fright” can cause nausea, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, increased heart rate, stomach pain or diarrhea. The body may have a strong reaction similar to other stressful situations. Outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness show us how stress, and feelings and behavior of others can affect how we feel. People who feel unwell in an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness really believe they may have been exposed to a harmful substance.

An outbreak of mass psychogenic illness is a time of anxiety and concern. During an outbreak, extensive media coverage, and the presence of ambulances and emergency workers can make you and others feel more anxious and at risk. In that moment, hearing or seeing someone get sick, may be enough to make you also feel unwell.

How do you know when an outbreak is caused by mass psychogenic illness?

The following points may indicate that a group disease is caused by mass psychogenic illness:

  • Many people get sick at the same time.
  • The tests and physical examinations show normal results.
  • Doctors cannot find anything in the environment of the group that could make people sick (eg, some kind of toxin in the air, water or food).

The patterns of the outbreak (eg, types of illnesses reported, the types of people affected, how the disease spreads) could also prove the existence of mass psychogenic illness.

However, if any of the following is true, you should consult your doctor for examination to see if there is a different reason for health concern:

  • Your illness lasts several days.
  • Fever.
  • Muscles contract.
  • Eyes continually weep.
  • A burning sensation in the skin.

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