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The expulsion of evil and its return: An unconscious fantasy associated with a case of mass hysteria in adolescents

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The formal study of hysteria started with psychoanalysis, which opened paths to studying the unconscious. However, we have found no psychoanalytic or psychiatric studies in the literature reporting epidemics of hysteria in hundreds of adolescent girls affected for several months like the one we describe. This epidemic occurred in a religious boarding-school in a rural area of Mexico. Our study aimed to determine psychoanalytic and sociocultural elements contributing to explain a behavioural epidemic outbreak during which young girls were unable to walk normally and which led to a temporary cessation of routine activities at the boarding-school. Key informers were interviewed, including the first cases of affected adolescent girls and the nuns. Interviews included questions concerning informers’ life history and their life at the boarding-school before and during the epidemic. We found that this boarding-school functioned as a large family affected by a psychotic episode which resulted from modes of communication of its members. This article describes the phenomenon and emphasizes perceived communication among members of the boarding-school and visitors at the time of the outbreak.
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Keywords: adolescent; development; hysteria

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2010

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