Role of Media in Outcome of Mass Hysteria: A Comparative Study

Author : M K Sahu, S Singh, L K Singh

Background-Mass hysteria is a social phenomenon often occurring among otherwise healthy adolescents or preadolescents. Prominent emergency or media response often aggravates symptoms. The objective of this paper was to study the effect of media coverage in the outcome of mass hysteria. Methods-Two separate events of mass hysteria were included for the present study. Media coverage of both events in terms of content, frequency and prominence were studied. All affected children, their parents and teachers were interviewed to assess their symptoms, stressors, understanding and belief about the episodes. They were also given psycho education regarding the illness. Results-In the first event, 7 adolescent girls of a school were affected. All the affected children were sent back after single outpatient consultation. No recurrence of episodes occurred during the one month follow up period. Media coverage was restricted a small article in a local news paper. The second event occurred close to the state capital. 11 adolescent girls of a government school were affected. It was covered in the electronic media within few hours of the event. All the major news papers of the state described it as a medical emergency. Coverage was continued for a week till the villagers banned the media. Symptoms continued to recur for 2 weeks. Three new cases were also reported during this period. One week after the stoppage of media coverage no recurrence of events were reported. Discussion & Conclusion-Media has a powerful role to play in the outcome of mass hysteria. Proper scientific explanation can have a positive affect where as statements of medical emergency, witchcraft or the supernatural can have a negative impact on the outcome.

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