What is mass psychogenic illness?
They could think they’ve been exposed to something dangerous, like a germ or a toxin (poison). This could happen to a class in a school or workers in an office.
Symptoms of mass psychogenic illness
The symptoms of mass psychogenic illness depend on what sickness people believe they’ve been exposed to. Some symptoms they could experience include:
- A choking feeling
What causes mass psychogenic illness?
Many outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness start with an environmental “trigger.” The environmental trigger can be a bad smell or a suspicious-looking substance. Or it could be something else that makes people in a group believe they have been exposed to a germ or a poison. When this happens, many of them may begin to experience symptoms of sickness at the same time. In some cases, one person gets sick and then other people in the group also start feeling sick.
Why do people who are experiencing mass psychogenic illness feel sick?
Outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness show us how stress affects us. 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 other stressful situations. People who feel sick in an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness really believe they may have been exposed to something harmful.
Outbreaks also show how other people’s feelings and behavior can affect the way we feel. An outbreak of mass psychogenic illness is a time of anxiety and worry. A lot of media coverage or the presence of ambulances or emergency workers can make you and other people feel more anxious. At such a time, if you hear about or see someone get sick, it can be enough to make you feel sick too.
Is the sickness “all in my head”?
No, it is real. 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 something harmful.
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.