Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1984;10(6):501-504    pdf


Psychogenic epidemics and work.

by Olkinuora M

Psychogenic epidemics cover various forms of collective behavior and include mass hysteria, mass psychogenic illness, and hysterical contagion for which no physical explanation can be found. The typical course of a psychogenic epidemic at a workplace progresses from sudden onset, often with dramatic symptoms, to a rapidly attained peak that draws much publicity and is followed by quick disappearance of the symptoms. Over 90% of the affected persons are women, and the symptoms range from dizziness, vomiting, nausea, and fainting to epileptic-type seizures, hyperventilation, and skin disorders. The background mechanisms are thought to be generalized beliefs and triggering events which create a sense of threat that leads to a physiological state of arousal. This state, in turn, creates new beliefs which give meaning to the sense of arousal. The new belief spreads through sociometric channels. Predisposing factors include boredom, pressure to produce, physical stressors, poor labor-management relations, and impaired interpersonal communications, and lack of social support. It is important that a thorough investigation be carried out in all instances. Investigation is not only necessary for diagnosis, but it also reassures the management, the employees, and the press that physical factors are unlikely to be responsible for the disease.