One woman reports: “It has been absolutely nuts here – people are beside themselves – children – kids at the school have been crying – afraid – they have had to cancel classes – whole schools have had walkouts or no shows – It’s ugly in California, people really are freaking out”.
Dan Rather reports that he has never witnessed in his lifetime kids being so strongly impacted by a presidential election – scared – emotionally distraught – and it’s never happened before in a presidential election in the U.S.
People in communities are witnessing a phenomenon that they have never seen before. It seems big, scary and troubling. It is frightening, especially for the kids.
The United States is experiencing a type of mass hysteria. This may have been brought on by our constant bombardment with high decibel media, by the strain of a very polarizing election, by the overwhelming stresses of modern life, or all of the above.
Mass hysteria is nothing new. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of instances throughout history that effected whole regions and entire nations. From the nuns who were afflicted with a meowing disease to the French farmers who were convinced the government was going to kill them in their sleep, cases of mass hysteria have always been troubling — and at times even dangerous.
In a period spanning October 2001 to June 2002, thousands of elementary-aged students across the U.S. were being afflicted with a skin rash that appeared with no known cause. The rash would last from a few hours up to two weeks, and then disappear as mysteriously as it came. Parents were very concerned at the time about the 9/11 attacks and an anthrax scare that was sweeping the country. The news was full of reports of attacks; was this a successful case of bioterrorism? It was dubbed the “Bin Laden Itch” in the news, and off it went.
Under constant alerts in the media, fears of a bioterrorist attack made parents and children pay more attention to their skin, and also prompted school nurses to report a higher number of cases than usual. To make things worse, a school was closed by an apparent outbreak before it was found that a few students were deliberately rubbing sandpaper on their skin in an effort to get out of school. The so-called “Bin Laden Itch”—though ultimately non-existent—was hugely successful in sparking a mass hysteria.
Remember the day care ritual abuse hysteria of the 1980s and 90s? During this time several day care workers across the country were accused of engaging children in all manner of satanic ritual abuse. Fantastic claims were made, and many were involved in the panic and the lawsuits. Virtually all the accused were later exonerated—but not before spending a good amount of time in jail and having their lives essentially ruined!
In reality, as it became more common for both husband and wife to work outside the home, more people than ever before had to entrust their children to day care centers. This was likely to increase parents’ anxiety and guilt. Day care workers, in effect, became the perfect scapegoats. Add to that the false testimonies, shamelessly coerced out of small children by heavy-handed interrogators, and there you have it—the perfect recipe for a 20th century media panic which resulted in mass hysteria in America.
These and many other examples show how common this kind of mass hysteria has been. They also show the great extent to which mass hysteria has been driven by the media in the U. S. But most importantly they show that it is the children who are most susceptible to the worst effects of these kinds of panics.
Children and adults listen to the news being reported by outlets who sell more through sensational reporting. The children don’t often understand what it all means, but they see their parents, teachers and other responsible adults responding in fear. This escalates the level of fear that the children feel — if the people responsible for their wellbeing are fearful, how can they be assured of their family’s safety?
The United States is experiencing a wave of post-election mass hysteria. It is due to the effects of the media, to a difficult election, and to our stressful times. In the midst of it we as responsible adults must be strong for our families. We must be optimistic. It is important to facilitate communication, especially during times of crisis, but we must be wise in our communication with and around our children. We must target our communication to the level of our children’s understanding, and then be supportive and reassuring with our kids.
There isn’t a cure for mass hysteria. It seems that as some are strong and level-headed, others around more readily collect their thoughts and feelings about the perceived threat and can begin to respond without panic and fear. In this way we can be a stabilizing influence in our communities, until the mass hysteria dies down.
Pray for your children. Pray for your family and community. Pray for the country at this critical time.
Examples from Listverse.