Mass hysteria is a powerful group expression rooted in fear and anxiety. The strange thing about mass hysteria is that you don’t know when you are affected by it. Even the people who are not experiencing mass hysteria can’t easily recognize when others are experiencing it, unless they know what to look for. The reason many can’t easily identify what is going on in the U.S. right now is that a powerful mass hysteria has overwhelmed the nation. On both sides of the aisle. In order to offer some help, this article starts with a compilation of information about the phenomenon of mass hysteria. At the end of the article I briefly apply the general information about mass hysteria to the current situation in America, and offer some steps for dispelling it. If you can see the signs after they are pointed out, you’re probably not in the hysteria bubble. If you do not see the signs, it probably means you’re caught inside the current mass hysteria phenomenon.
Facts About Mass Hysteria
Mass hysteria is a form of groupthink, in which many people behave or react to something real or imagined in an uncontrolled or extreme way. In mass hysteria, the group members all develop a common fear or sense of anxiety that spirals into a massive expression, while the threat’s actual risk is non-existent or disproportionate to the reaction of the group.
Mass hysteria spreads through sight, sound, smell, conversation and through various other means of communication. The group members feed off of each other’s emotional reactions, causing the panic to escalate.
Other names for mass hysteria include mass psychogenic illness and mass sociogenic illness.
Examples of Mass Hysteria
There have been numerous cases of mass hysteria throughout history propelled by dominant, although misguided, sociocultural concerns of the time. Riots, apparent outbreaks of illness, witch hunts, and other extreme group events have often been shown to be the result of mass hysteria. A prominent example from the 17th and 18th Centuries highlights how a general fear of witches prompted widespread panic in Early American society, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths of many innocent victims.
Mass Hysteria and the Ebola Virus
The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa caused mass hysteria in the United States. In one example New Jersey Governor Chris Christie irrationally held a nurse for a number of days against her will in a tent. She had been treating ebola patients in West Africa, but she had already tested negative for the virus upon her return. Many healthcare experts asserted their professional opinion that quarantine was unnecessary, but public outcry based in the mass hysteria supported the governor’s irrational stance. The general anxiety in the United States concerning ebola had been fueled by media and news reports.
Mass Hysteria and the Social Media Culture
The radio broadcast War of the Worlds, another common example, famously spawned outbreaks of mass hysteria. It is important to us today in that it was one of the first examples showing the power of the media to spread mass hysteria. The Le Roy outbreak is another similar example. In January 2012, 14 teenaged girls and one boy in Le Roy, New York, began reporting Tourette’s-like symptoms of spasms, twitches, and vocal tics. Various causes were suggested and ruled out, including vaccine exposure, infection, and drug use. Multiple neurologists examined the patients and came to the same conclusion: conversion disorder and mass psychogenic illness: Mass Hysteria.
In the weeks following the Le Roy outbreak, today’s fast-paced social-media culture came under fire. Physicians involved in the case felt that the patients’ own use of Facebook and other social networking outlets was propagating symptoms, as was the constant exposure via news media. On February 6, Buffalo’s NBC affiliate announced that they would no longer air video of the afflicted girls. Evidence suggests that witnessed behaviors incite or reinforce similar behaviors in others, particularly when a common background, anxiety, or stressor is shared. This sheds light on our current situation. There are numerous further examples: in a 1989 episode that eventually affected 400 adolescent schoolgirls in Russia, media reports helped spread the symptoms among the wider community.
Sensationalism and Mass Hysteria
Mass hysteria appears to result from environmental factors such as social and cultural stressors that create anxiety. Media sensationalism has risen in importance as a dominant factor in the creation of social and cultural anxiety. Sensationalism has long been recognized as a successful strategy to sell news stories in various media, and news outlets may exaggerate the importance of unusual or tragic occurrences. In the case of the Le Roy girls, attention from the news media seemed to increase symptoms and add to the number of affected individuals.
If you’re in the mass hysteria, recognizing you have all the symptoms of hysteria won’t help you be aware you are in it. But if you are not experiencing mass hysteria, you might be totally confused by the actions of the people who are. They appear to be irrational, but in ways that are hard to define. You can’t tell if they are stupid, unscrupulous, ignorant, mentally ill, or emotionally unstable. Doesn’t this sound like the situation in the United States right now?
Instances involving the propagation of seemingly irrational anxieties might seem at odds with an increasingly educated general public, but episodes of mass hysteria continue to occur. The current situation widespread across the United States is a case in point. It started with fear rhetoric whipped up by the news media around the recent election. This seems to be at the heart of the current mass hysteria phenomenon afflicting Americans. The resulting “Resist” movement then served to reinforce and militarize the fear, increasing public anxiety and spawning a whole string of resulting hysteria points. For instance, we might soon learn that the Russian Collusion story was mass hysteria in hindsight. The curious lack of solid evidence for Russian involvement is a telling indication!
Other Hysteria points daily stressed in the news media are that the White House is in chaos, or that the President is a racist. None of these propositions have any basis in fact, but high profile people and the news media are keeping the focus on constant fear and anxiety — every day adding more fear to an already fearful national populace. Modern communication methods such as television, texting, social media sites, and YouTube provide near-instantaneous pathways for these fear-inducing images and statements to be witnessed by a wide audience, facilitating the spread of fear and anxiety. News and social media sites also provide a ready platform for special interests to promulgate their views with vivid pictures and inflammatory descriptions.
Children are crying at school. Young people are marching in the streets. Teachers are wildly calling out for students to “resist”! Hate seems to be fomenting in the streets. Others are caught up in the fear and don’t know what to do. Why does it seem that the American media is participating in this promotion of massive fear and anxiety? We can only assume that it is to sell more clicks or airtime, or to promote an agenda of their own. Yet continued dramatic media reports are likely to exacerbate the current case of national mass hysteria and could steer members of the general population away from, rather than towards, resolution of their symptoms of fear and anxiety.
The Spiritual Situation
We know that the enemy of our souls will be ready to exploit any difficulty, hardship or fear in order to come against us, against God and against the country. Powers and Principalities in high places will try to use anything they can to keep us from exercising our giftings and callings to bring peace, love others and extend God’s Kingdom. God’s enemies are “rearing their heads” against us. As in Psalm 83, God’s enemies are saying about us, about Israel, about the United States,
“Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.” Psalm 83:4
But we must remember that God is not the author of difficulty, hardship or fear in our lives. He is our King, our Savior, and He will answer when we call out to Him! Pray with Psalm 83:
God! Ride out against Your enemies!
“Make them like tumbleweed, my God,
like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest
or a flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your storm.
16 Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
so that they will seek your name.
17 May they ever be ashamed and dismayed;
may they perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord—
that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” Psalm 83:13-18
What Can We Do?
So what can we do about the current overwhelming mass hysteria holding the United States in its grip?
The first thing is to realize that there is a problem. Did this article bring up a reaction? You might be affected by the current mass hysteria. You may also recognize that this is true by looking at the current militant cultural landscape in the U.S. — on both sides. Being subject to a mass hysteria is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you are a sensitive human being, and that you care very much. But we do not have to live as a victim of fear and anxiety. There are more productive ways to address any apparent difficulties.
The second thing is to turn off the media, slow down, relax and try to take a more balanced perspective on the situation. We voted in a new President. He is not an evil monster. We as Americans need to give the new administration a chance to succeed. Otherwise we are working for disaster for all of us. Do we really want to resist all efforts for our country to succeed?
Lastly, recognize that God is in control! Call out to God in the midst of this national hysteria. His perfect Love is what we need to cast out all of this fear. Pray for those caught in the grip of this mass hysteria. America is in a state of change, and change can often be scary. But God is in control, and He can make all the difference if we will call out to Him! He will work ALL THINGS to our good! In God’s hands, this time of change could mean the beginning of something great!
We can still live our lives in the manner we choose. We can still vote our conscience. We can still work peacefully and cooperatively toward God’s vision of freedom and justice in our country. This is a rare nation, in which we can do all of that. We can do more than is possible in many other countries!
We should pray for our leaders. We should hope for the best for our children. We should work toward greater peace, greater prosperity for all, and greater love and brotherhood among our fellow men and women. When we understand that we are in the midst of a national Mass Hysteria, we can cry out to God, slow down, calm down, lay aside our resistance, and work together for the future we all dream for.
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