Experts say some of the mental health problems are "socially transmitted conditions."

Can you catch mental illness

 

The epidemic began in a white boarding school in East Africa.


Case Study Mental Illness:

At the end of January 1962, three students at the school started laughing and could not stop. Their laughter spread to other students. Six weeks later, two-thirds of the school’s students experienced uncontrollable bursts of laughter and crying that could last for hours and often repeated themselves day after day. Eventually, hundreds of young people in some towns were "infected."


For six months the plague of laughter raged. But then it's gone, not to return. The episode surprised local health officials. Laboratory tests and physical examinations showed no signs of viral infection. Two doctors who documented the phenomenon came to the conclusion - and later experts agreed - that the most likely explanation was "mass hysteria".


Mass Psychogenic Disease:

"The term we use now is mass psychogenic disease, and there are many documented cases," says Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, professor of social sciences and natural sciences, internal medicine and biomedical engineering at Yale University.


'Expectation leads to perception, which becomes reality'.


In his book Connected, Christakis describes the 1962 epidemic of laughter and other similar chapters. He tells me about a related phenomenon, known as a culture-related syndrome, in which people within a culture experience a disease that does not exist anywhere else in the world and seems to have no medical basis.


Example:

"The most famous example comes from Southeast Asia, where men develop the belief that their penis is gone and drawn into their body," he says. "To us it seems crazy, but to those affected the experience is very real."


I contacted Christakis to talk about the TikTok tics reports.


According to a 2021 article in the BMJ Archives of Disease in Childhood journal, doctors in the UK "have recently seen a marked increase in performances of sudden and new onset of severe tics and 'tic' attacks'." The involuntary tics - excessive blinking, clearing of the throat, verbal outbursts, etc. - are similar to those associated with Tourette's syndrome. Researchers in Germany and elsewhere have documented a similar increase.


While tics are usually more common (in a 4: 1 ratio) in boys, most new cases appear in young women. According to this BMJ article, some teenage girls who developed tics reported that they watched videos of people with a torte on TikTok, where popular tics videos. (As of this writing, #tourettes has nearly 6 billion views.) BMJ authors have speculated that the TikTok videos may have contributed to the youngsters' tics.


"It seems completely reasonable to me," says Christakis.


How can watching videos online produce symptoms of a neurological disorder? Much of Christakis' work has explored the theory of social attachment, or the ways in which beliefs spread within groups and are influenced by social interactions, social exposures, and social feedback.


He says the rise of online conspiracy theories is one example of social contagion using rampant internet. "People with these crazy beliefs can find each other and reinforce each other in a way that will not happen offline," he says. Many of those social forces - which are often most powerful when we are exposed to “colleagues,” or people we see as similar to ourselves - can also affect a person’s physical and emotional health, he says.


Social contagion theory claims that our experience of reality - what we think, what we feel and how we behave - is very often influenced by the thoughts, feelings and behaviors we observe in people around us, whether online or IRL. If our social connections signal to our brain that some kind of disorder or dysfunction is possible, or even probable, it can increase the chances that we will experience its symptoms.


While everyone is under the control of social forces, Christakis says young people - and especially young women - seem more sensitive. "I do not know why the gender of it is so strong," he says. "It may be partly cultural, but I think there are gender differences in emotional sentiments or calibrations that play a role."


To support the theory of social contagion, research has found evidence that symptoms of depression and anxiety can be contagious. Some experts have also argued that depression and other mental health problems that are traditionally considered "non-communicable diseases" should be rebranded as "socially transmitted states."


We go too far - and perhaps cause real harm - when we celebrate or reward emotional or physical hardships.


More related work involves something called the stabilized effect.


"In the same way the circuits of the brain can reduce pain or the severity of other aversion sensations - it's the placebo effect - the brain can also regulate these sensations, and that's the stabilized effect," said Vitaly Nafadov, PhD, professor at Harvard Medical School, when we spoke back in 2019.


For example, when a person is told that a drug he is taking may lead to depression, upset stomach or other side effects - even if the drug is not related to any of these - there is a higher chance that this person  will report that he is experiencing this side. -Effects. Research has also found that when people intend to interpret media content as traumatic, their experience of trauma comes up legally.


"Expectation leads to perception, which becomes reality," Nafadov told me.


The authors of the BMJ TikTok study noticed something else that may have taken part in the development of young people's torte-like symptoms.


When their tics appeared, some of the teens posted videos of their symptoms on social media. This gave them "peer support, recognition and a sense of belonging," the research team wrote. "These attention and support may mistakenly hold and maintain the symptoms."


Other psychologists, including Christakis, have marked this problem for me. While receiving support and encouragement can benefit or even save lives for people in distress, it may also sustain or aggravate someone’s condition.


A study of people with anorexia found that grouping them together in recovery wards or day hospitals may lead to recurrence or even pro-anorexia beliefs, which are fueled, among other things, by identification and belonging within the group. Also, a 2016 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that when people with depression saw a central situation in their identity - something social media might incentivize - they were more likely to "conform" to the norms of depressed people, leading to worse outcomes.


While anyone with a health challenge deserves compassion and sympathy, Christakis says we go too far - and perhaps cause real harm - when we celebrate or "reward" emotional or physical hardships. "It's an over-correction," he says.


Human miserable maps are constantly being redrawn. There is reason to believe that powerful social forces operating today, many of them online, may contribute to mental illness and other forms of suffering. Some foods are very helpful under mental illness.


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