By ANDREW MARSHALL Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011
Why are hundreds of female workers collapsing at Cambodian factories? And could it have something to do with Pokémon cartoons, “World Trade Center syndrome” and the Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962?
Last week a team of experts from the U.N.’s International Labour Organization (ILO) gathered in Phnom Penh to seek an answer to the first question. In the past three months, at least 1,200 workers at seven garment and shoe factories have reported feeling dizzy, nauseated, exhausted or short of breath, and hundreds have been briefly hospitalized. No definitive explanation has yet been given for these so-called mass faintings. One baffled reporter described them as “unique to Cambodia.”
All these are examples of mass hysteria, a bizarre yet surprisingly common phenomenon that is increasingly recognized as a significant health and social problem. For centuries it has crossed cultures and religions, taking on different forms to keep pace with popular obsessions and fears. In our post-9/11 world, it thrives on the anxiety caused by terrorist attacks, nuclear radiation and environmental gloom. “At any one time there are probably hundreds of episodes happening all around the world,” says Simon Wessely, a psychology professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. “They just don’t normally get reported.”
Also see How Many iPad Factory Workers Committed Suicide So Far?, Are Apple Factory Workers in China Killing Themselves?, What Does Your Group Do to You? and The Mennonite Mass Rapes: The Ugliest Sex Scandals in History