Mass Hysteria a real diagnosis

Mass Hysteria a real diagnosis

Le Roy : NY : USA | Jan 19, 2012 at 10:24 AM PST
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12 teen girls fall mysteriously ill receive mass hysteria or conversion disorder diagnosis

Just recently TODAY reported a case of 12 teenage girls all from the same school who had a medical mystery baffling doctors. The girls had Tourette's like symptoms consisting of verbal outbreaks and ticks. Now, Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, neurologist in Amherst, New York has diagnosed this mysterious illness as conversion disorder or mass hysteria.

Mental health professionals admit to reading about it in text books but have rarely ever witnessed it up close. This latest story has now brought awareness to the unfamiliar stress related disorder.

Dr. Mechtler had conveyed on Wednesday to TODAY, that this has happened before in all parts of the world. It is a rare disorder and physicians are intrigued by it.

Mass hysteria outbreak in three indigenous communities near the river Coco in northern Nicaragua with reports of 43 people who had fallen ill in 2009.

In 2004, mass hysteria in a village of Lebanon had been reported. According to a report nine months later the mass hysteria outbreak was gone in six weeks time.

Dr. Gail Saltz, psychologist and contributor to TODAY, had stated just because the girls symptoms may be psychological in origin it does not make them any less real or painful. Dr. Saltz notes the girls were not faking it and need a psychiatric or psychological treatment and it does work.

Dr. Mechtler seems to agree stating "The bottom line is these teenagers will get better."

According to the Mayo Clinic this is a condition in which you demonstrate psychological stress in physical ways. It describes a health problem which starts as a mental or emotional crisis, a scarey or stressful incident of some kind and converts into a physical one. However, patients can be more at risk if suffering from an illness.

Signs and symptoms usually affect your movement, your senses, inability to speak, numbness or other neurological problems. For most people it can last days or weeks.

It is still not clear which girl had first displayed symptoms or if it was a particular event that had triggered the outbreak.

One girl Thera Sanchez, had told TODAY she was perfectly fine and nothing was going on. When she awoke from a nap the stuttering had began.

For over three months the New York Health Department has been investigating the case and state that the school building is not to blame. The LeRoy Junior-Senior High School, where the girls attended, the officials there have released environmental reports which had been conducted by an outside agency, The report shows no substances in any of the school buildings that could cause health problems.

Health officials have ruled out illegal drugs, carbon monoxide and other factors as potential causes.

Dr. Gregory Young, of the New York Department of Health has told NBC News that they have “conclusively ruled out any form of infection or communicable disease and there’s no evidence of any environmental factor,’’

Jim Dupont, a father to one of the girls on Wednesday told TODAY "Obviously we are all not just accepting that this is a stress thing,"

Dr. Mechtler, states that when conversion disorder occurs in a large group it is called “mass psychogenic illness”. It affects groups of people in the same environment such as workers in a office or a class at school who get similar symptoms at the same time.

Dr. Mechtler stresses the publicity around the case does not mean teenage girls around the United States will start demonstrating the same symptoms.

Dr. Mechtler who is treating some of the girls says they are improving. "Part of the treatment is reassuring the patients and families that they do not suffer from an organic neurological disease," according to Dr. Mechtler.

The exact of conversion disorder is unknown but the part of the brain that controls muscles and senses could be involved. It just may be the brains way of coping with something that seems like a threat.

Mayo Clinic notes this disorder is triggered by a reaction to some kind of stress. Stress relieving activities such as meditation and yoga just may help reduce reactions to the events that prompt conversion disorder.

Debbie Nicholson is based in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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