Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is mass psychogenic
Mass psychogenic illness is when groups of
people (such as a class in a school or workers in an office) start feeling sick
at the same time even though there is no physical or environmental reason for
them to be sick.
Is mass psychogenic illness
Mass psychogenic illness has been talked about
and written about for hundreds of years, all around the world and in many
different social settings. No one keeps track of these outbreaks, but they are
probably a lot more common than we realize.
What causes an outbreak of mass
Many outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness start
with an environmental "trigger." The environmental trigger can be a bad smell, a
suspicious-looking substance or something else that makes people in a group
believe they have been exposed to a germ or a poison.
When an environmental trigger makes a group of
people believe they might have been exposed to something dangerous, many of them
may begin to experience signs of sickness at the same time. They might
experience headache, dizziness, faintness, weakness or a choking feeling.
In some cases, one person gets sick and then other people in the group also
start feeling sick.
How do we know an outbreak of
sickness is caused by mass psychogenic illness?
The following might indicate that a group
sickness is caused by mass psychogenic illness:
- Many people get sick at the same time.
- Physical exams and tests show normal results.
- Doctors can't find anything in the group's
environment that would make people sick (for example, some kind of poison in the
The patterns of the
outbreak (for example, the kinds of illnesses that are reported, the kinds of
people who are affected, the way the illness spreads) might also give evidence
of mass psychogenic illness.
However, if the following are true, you should
see your doctor to be checked for a different reason for your health
- Your illness lasts several days.
- You have a fever.
- Your muscles are twitching.
- Tears keep coming from your eyes.
- Your skin feels like it has been
people with mass psychogenic illness feel sick?
Think of how "stage fright" can cause nausea,
shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, a racing heart, a stomachache or
diarrhea. Your body can have a similar strong reaction to the stressful
situations involved in mass psychogenic illness. Outbreaks of mass psychogenic
illness show us how much stress and other people's feelings and behavior can
effect the way we feel.
People who feel sick in an outbreak of mass
psychogenic illness really believe it is possible that they have been exposed to
something harmful. For example, when several cases of anthrax infection were
confirmed in the United States, it was easy for people to believe it could
happen to them too.
An outbreak of mass psychogenic illness is a
time of anxiety and worry. During an outbreak, a lot of media coverage and the
presence of ambulances or emergency workers can make you and other people feel
more anxious and at risk. At such a time, if you hear about someone
getting sick or if you see someone get sick, it can be enough to make you feel
Does this mean that the sickness is
"all in my head"?
No, it doesn't. People who are involved in these
outbreaks have real signs of sickness that are not imagined. They really do have
headaches, or they really do feel dizzy. But in cases of mass psychogenic
illness, these symptoms are not caused by a poison or a germ. The symptoms are
caused by stress and anxiety, or by your belief that you have been exposed to
Psychogenic illness can affect normal, healthy
people. Just because you reacted this way to the threat of something dangerous
does not mean there is something wrong with your mind.
How can an outbreak of mass
psychogenic illness be stopped?
Most of these outbreaks stop when people get
away from the place where the illness started. The signs of illness tends to go
away once people are examined and doctors tell them that they do not have a
dangerous illness. It is important to keep the people who feel sick away from
the commotion and stress of the outbreak.
After experts check out the place where the
outbreak started, they can tell people whether it is safe to go back to