“Eerie and remarkable.”
Those are the words that Robert Bartholomew used to describe this past winter’s outbreak of mass hysteria in Danvers, Massachusetts, a town also known as “Old Salem” and “Salem Village.”
Bartholomew, a sociologist in New Zealand who has been studying cases of mass hysteria for more than 20 years, was referring to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, the most widely recognized episode of mass hysteria in history, which ultimately saw the hanging deaths of 20 women.
Fast-forward about 300 years to January 2013, when a bizarre case of mass hysteria again struck Danvers. About two dozen teenagers at the Essex Agricultural and Technical School began having “mysterious” hiccups and vocal tics.
“The Massachusetts State Health Department refuses to say publicly,” Bartholomew wrote in an email in late August, “but I have heard from some of the parents privately who say that the symptoms are still persisting.”
The location might be eerie, but Bartholomew is not surprised by the outbreak in the slightest. He said that there has been a “sudden upsurge” in these types of outbreaks popping up in the U.S. over the past few years. It starts with conversion disorder, when psychological stressors, such as trauma or anxiety, manifest in physical symptoms. The conversion disorder becomes “contagious” due to a phenomenon called mass psychogenic illness (MPI), historically known as “mass hysteria,” in which exposure to cases of conversion disorder cause other people—who unconsciously believe they’ve been exposed to the same harmful toxin—to experience the same symptoms.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
Americans came to believe over time that education could ensure that all children of any class had a shot at success. And if any state should be able to make that belief a reality, it was Massachusetts.
[…] If the great equalizer’s ability to equalize America is dwindling, it’s not because education is growing less important in the modern economy. Paradoxically, it’s precisely because schooling is now even more important.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
From Massachusetts now comes growing evidence that the quest for lower abortion rates, though, may not be at a standstill; and the key may be better insurance coverage. As the number of insured has gone up in Massachusetts, new state data show a corresponding decline in the number of abortions performed there since 2006.
Read more. [Image: Brian Fung, Data: Department of Public Health, U.S. Census Bureau]
Sadly, are we getting tornado fatigue?
Last night’s storm that passed through Massachusetts had devastating effects not seen in this area in many years. Here’s our latest story from the wires.
PHOTO: The damage to One Stop Towing is seen after Wednesday’s tornado ripped through Brimfield, Massachusetts. (REUTERS/Adam Hunger)