Study Looks at Factors Linked to Mass Hysteria Outbreaks in Nepal

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From Mad in America: A new study was done to understand why groups of students in Nepal sometimes experience similar symptoms, like abdominal pain, trance, or seizures, all at once. This is called Mass Psychogenic Illness or mass hysteria. The study was conducted by researchers from McGill University. They found that certain factors like being easily hypnotized and feeling disconnected during trauma could predict who gets Mass Psychogenic Illness.

Different communities experience Mass Psychogenic Illness in different ways. In Nepal, two common forms are trance and possession states, where people believe they are possessed by spirits or deities. Some cultures have talked about these types of possessions throughout history.

The study also pointed to a problem in psychology research. Most studies focus on Western countries, which are wealthier and more educated. This limits our understanding of human experiences. So, studies like this one in Nepal are important to get a better understanding of different cultures and challenge what we think is abnormal.

Nepal has seen many cases of mass trance or possession since the late 1990s. Over 130 schools have reported these cases, where multiple children suddenly fall to the ground and show signs of distress for minutes to hours.

Previous studies in Nepal have connected Mass Psychogenic Illness to trauma, poverty, violence, and anxiety. The researchers in this study wanted to find out what causes Mass Psychogenic Illness and what factors are related to it.

They compared students who experienced Mass Psychogenic Illness with those who didn’t. They looked at things like childhood trauma, personality traits, current distress, and dissociation during the traumatic event. Dissociation is when a person’s mind kind of separates from what’s happening around them. It might feel like they’re watching themselves from a distance or feeling like they’re in a dream. 

People can experience dissociation when they go through really difficult or overwhelming situations, like a scary event or a lot of stress. It’s a way for their mind to protect them from feeling too overwhelmed. But sometimes, dissociation can be a sign of a more serious problem, like a mental health condition.

The symptoms displayed by the children were similar to certain psychological disorders, but the authors of the study don’t think these experiences are mental illnesses.

The study involved 194 students who had experienced Mass Psychogenic Illness and 190 students who hadn’t. The researchers found that children from nuclear families were more likely to have Mass Psychogenic Illness compared to those from joint families. This might be because nuclear families have fewer resources and less emotional support.

The study also looked at the relationship between depression, post-traumatic stress, and Mass Psychogenic Illness, and found that it’s not clear whether Mass Psychogenic Illness is a mental disorder or not.

The study found that physical abuse during childhood and a person’s ability to be hypnotized and disconnection during a traumatic event predicted Mass Psychogenic Illness. Other factors like fantasizing a lot, childhood neglect, and post-traumatic stress didn’t have a strong effect. This challenges the idea that Mass Psychogenic Illness and dissociative disorders are the same.

In conclusion, this study provides new insights into Mass Psychogenic Illness in Nepal. It shows that these experiences have their own cultural meaning and should be understood in their own context, rather than being labeled as mental disorders. If these experiences help people cope with distress and find healing, it’s not our place to interfere from a Western perspective.

This article originally appeared in Mad in America and can be read here.

This is an AI generated version edited for a South Asian audience.


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