09 December 2006

Mass Hysteria in Barnsley, Holinwell, Mattoon, Halifax, Egypt...

Friday’s Times reported a fortean event in Barnsley in which a school was evacuated after a on human biology apparently sparked mass hysteria. More than 30 pupils, aged from 11 to 13, as well as a teaching assistant were taken to hospital after three children initially told teachers that they were feeling unwell.

When an entire class began feeling faint and nauseous, they called in the emergency services, fearing a gas leak. All students and staff were then assembled in the hall and sports hall before it was decided, on the advice of paramedics, that everyone at the 627-pupil school should be removed.

Eventually 32 pupils were taken by ambulance and patient transfer vehicles to Barnsley District Hospital for check-ups, as emergency services monitored the school. A hospital spokesman said: “The children were brought into our emergency department. We checked their blood pressure, pulse and blood sugar levels. I have never come across anything like this before.”

Kay Jenkins, the head teacher, said: that no gas leak had been found and that there were no experiments taking place in the science laboratory at the time. “We are still unsure about what happened, but a group of 30 students were watching a human biology video which is regularly shown in a science class,” she said. “It is about the human body and how it works and no blood is shown on the screen. “Three children asked to leave and came down to the medical room feeling a bit queasy. Then another couple came down and at that point, as a few pupils were showing similar symptoms. We contacted the ambulance service and on the advice of the emergency services the school was evacuated as a precaution. “

Not much of an incident you may think but outbreaks of mass hysteria are not uncommon. The Times article mentioned two other incidents: the collapse and hospitalization of 300 children in Holinwell while competing in a brass band competition. And an outbreak of paralysis among nurses at the Royal Free Hospital in London in 1955. That the Royal Free Hospital incident was caused by mass hysteria is contested in an interesting paper by psychologist EM Goudsmit. It is well worth reading if interested in such matters.

Two of my favourite “mass hysteria” stories are the Mad Gasser of Mattoon and the Halifax Slasher. Both are fascinating tales and deserve full posts in their own right.

Another incident which was well reported, particularly in my favourite magazine the Fortean Times, was a spate of fainting fits among Egyptian schoolgirls

Back in 1993 there were reports coming out of Egypt of hundreds of teenage girls fainting en masse in classrooms, breaking out in sobs and complaining of unpleasant smells and nausea. The girls were taken hospitals, where doctors run batteries of tests that yield no physical evidence to explain their symptoms. Dozens of schools were closed and Army experts in chemical warfare inspected school buildings and reviewed the medical tests.

"There is no clinical reason for it," said Dr. Ahmed Rasheq of the Agouza Hospital, at the time "It's just hysteria. We have carried out blood tests, urine tests, every kind of test we can think of and nothing has shown up."

More than a thousand young girls between 12 and 18 suffered attacks in some 40 schools across the country Islamic fundamentalist leaders blamed the Israeli secret service for the spells.

Health Minister Ragheb Dewidar said that neither medical nor environmental tests had found any contaminant and that the cause was psychological. "If one girl who is popular or a leader feels faint for some reason," he said, "the others start believing that they are suffering from the symptoms."

Then the fainting stopped and hysteria moved on to crop up in other countries This is based on a New York Times article. I should stress that fainting schoolgirls are not to be confused with fainting goats - More on fainting goats later.


Andrew. said...

I never get tired of the mass hysteria stories in 1050's America after the War of the Worlds Radio show.

jams o donnell said...

Ah yes Welles caused a huge stir with that one.

jams o donnell said...

Not a scream mask in sight, hust an innovative radio broadcast!

I quite liked SAW but Japan has a good line in Horror.. Have a watch of Audition for something gruesome