Last year, a peculiar illness swept the community of Le Roy, New York. Students attending a local high school exhibited symptoms such as twitching, shaking, and uncontrollable speech, similar to Tourette’s Syndrome.
At the time, it was written off as nothing more than a conversion disorder. Psychiatrists told the victims it was “all in their heads,” and much of the media came to the same conclusion. The parents and students themselves, however, weren’t exactly happy with that diagnosis.
But now a new possibility has emerged, albeit along the same lines: Mass hysteria via social networking.
As it turns out, the majority of students suffering from the strange affliction were cheerleaders, 16 in total, and some have recovered. At least one boy also exhibited the odd tics and outbursts. However, medical tests on those who were, and still are, “sick” have turned up nothing.
So we’re back to the conversion disorder hypothesis, with a twist.
A conversion disorder occurs when an individual exhibits symptoms of a neurological disorder without any discernible cause. It’s often thought that it arises from emotional distress, named such because anxiety is thought to “convert” into “physical symptoms.”
This new theory simply states that the illness, or mass hysteria, is being driven by the students’ use of social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. One person shows symptoms, or shares videos and updates of their “illness,” and due to the rapid spreading of information on those social networks, others “catch” the hysteria.
It’s a case of others thinking they have the same illness, and thus exhibiting symptoms themselves.
This is a very tricky, and very curious, situation. If it is a conversion disorder, then it’s yet another profound example of the power (and fallibility) of the human mind. If it’s not, then I hope we discover its true cause soon.
This also raises the question: If it is a conversion disorder or mass hysteria, then what started it?
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