Mass Hysteria Starts With Cheerleaders

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the strange situation in upstate New York, where twelve girls in the same junior-senior high school have developed strange tics, not unlike Tourette's, and nobody knows why.

It's now 14 girls, and possibly one boy, who have developed the strange behaviors.  One of them is posting her ordeal on YouTube.  

It's still a mystery about what is going on, but Slate tells us what the diagnosis is:

A doctor treating many of the students is confident that they are suffering not from poisoning, but from mass hysteria, also called mass psychogenic illness and other variants. Typically, symptoms—which can include Brownell’s Tourette’s-like movements, along with nausea, dizziness, cramping, and more—start with one or two victims and spread when others see or hear about them. Victims are often accused of faking it, but more often they are suffering real physical symptoms that are psychological in origin. The phenomenon has been observed for centuries, with the blame shifting to whatever specific anxieties are culturally pervasive at the time. But one theme has remained consistent: The victims are overwhelmingly female.

The most famous American incident of mass hysteria remains the events surrounding the witch trials in Salem, Mass., which began when several girls began suffering mysterious fits and outbursts. 

There is one thing we know about Salem, Massachusetts — the hysteria started with the older girls and worked its way to the younger girls. 

And there is a similarity between what happened in Salem centuries ago, and what is happening in LeRoy Junior-Senior High School — the most "prominent" girls are being afflicted first.  In Salem, it was the older girls of the community.  And the first girl to show signs of "tics" was at LeRoy was a popular cheerleader.

Is it possible that girls are "copying" the popular cheerleader?  Well, not intentionally.  It is an illness, some think, but the illness is mass hysteria — otherwise known as conversion disorder. It is a neurological condition in which psychological conflict or stress is unconsciously converted into physical symptoms that can include blindness, inability to speak or numbness.

Believe it or not, what is happening in LeRoy has happened elsewhere, recently.  In 2002, ten girls in a North Carolina high school started showing tics and epilieptic-type fits.  Guess what?  Once again, a cheerleader was first to manifest the strange symptoms, and once again other girls, some of them cheerleaders, were struck with the same condition.

If the North Carolina incident is to be a guide, this means that the LeRoy students are not in great or permanent danger.  The solution in North Carolina was to separate the students and treat each one individually.  (The symptoms went away over winter break).

Apparently, the parents in upstate New York are unhappy with the "mass hysteria" diagnosis, and it indicates there is something psychological, rather than physical, going on with their daughters.  Of course, this is probably one of those illnesses which rests in that gray area where "psychological" and "physical" overlap.

But it is an interesting development.