Top Three Mass Hysterias ~ Happening Now in 2022!

Part 1 ~ Hysteria

Call me hysterical, if you like, but it seems like we’ve been living through hysterical times. But hysteria is real, and so is mass hysteria. In this article I’m going to nominate the top three mass hysterias that are happening NOW in 2022. And it’s going to be controversial.

By Pieter Brueghel the Elder – Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. – Das gesamte graphische Werk. Wien-München: Schroll [o. J.], Abb. Nr. 124 (Scan durch H.-P.Haack, Leipzig), Public Domain,

Hysteria means that physical and psychological symptoms are experienced, but there appears to be no medical cause.[i] It often seems to be triggered by anxiety, and anxiety is contagious. And that’s mass hysteria: fear and anxiety lead to physical and psychological symptoms in the absence of an organic cause.[ii] It’s like a negative placebo effect.

I became fascinated with mass hysteria while writing the first edition of Weird Calderdale, back in 2002. I was particularly taken by the Halifax Slasher, a classic case of mass panic when the people of 1930s Halifax were terrorised by a razor wielding maniac leaping out of dark corners and slashing his hapless victims….

Of course, it soon transpired that the ‘victims’ had cut themselves, and the mystery attacker was a figment of their imagination. But as the press published sensational stories of the ‘attacks’, there suddenly sprang up a Manchester Slasher, a Glasgow Slasher, a Birmingham Slasher…. There were slashers everywhere. Except, there weren’t. The hysterical fear of the Halifax Slasher was contagious and spread round the country, all in the month of November 1938.

Daily Mirror 28 November 1938: The height of the Halifax Slasher’s reign of fear

Part Two ~ Some ‘Hystery’

There are countless cases of mass hysteria throughout history and all over the world. There were medieval dancing manias where the poor sufferers suddenly began to dance uncontrollably. They danced until their feet bled, and still didn’t stop. They cried out in anguish to passers-by for help. In Strasbourg in 1518, the authorities set up stages for the sufferers to dance on and hired musicians to play for them in the belief that this would allow them to dance the curse, or whatever it was, out of their system.[iii]

Big mistake. It just attracted more hysterical dancers. They danced till they dropped. Many danced until they died.

ÇPilgrimage of the Epileptics to the Church at MolenbeekÈ | ÇDancing ManiaÈ | ÇThe dance at MolenbeekÈ Pieter Breughel the Younger, painting.

Mass hysteria can be weird. Take the phenomenon known as koro. In several Asian countries, men become convinced that their penises are shrinking and disappearing into their body. Some clamp or tie string around their genitals to stop them vanishing. These episodes, too, are contagious and affect thousands at a time. There were several major outbreaks in the late twentieth century.[iv]

But hysterical panics are not just a phenomenon of distant times and far away places. The USA and the UK had their share in the 1980s and 1990s, and these were some of the weirdest in ‘hystery’. An unlikely alliance between gullible Christian fundamentalists, earnest but uncritical therapists, hypnotists, social workers and feminists created the bizarre modern myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse. In effect, hapless patients were brainwashed into imagining ‘lost memories’ of satanic rituals, child abuse, bestiality, murder and cannibalism.  Lives were and reputations were ruined and innocent people imprisoned for preposterous imaginary crimes.[v]

But hysteria is always with us in some form. So here are my controversial candidates for the top three mass hysterias that are happening NOW in 2022…

Part Three ~ The Top Three Mass Hysterias Happening Now in 2022

3. Needle Spiking

As more and more young people began venturing out to nightclubs after lockdown restrictions were relaxed, a disturbing new form of attack emerged: needle spiking. Young women began reporting that whilst in a nightclub they had been secretly injected with a drug that led to intoxication, memory loss, nausea, loss of inhibitions and a variety of other symptoms. As of the end of January 2022, police have received over a thousand reports.[vi]


Just like the Halifax Slasher scare of 1938, the media have lapped up these morality tales of the dangers of young women going out and enjoying themselves. But no trace of an injected date rape drug has been found in any of the victims. And authorities and journalists uncritically accepted that secretly injecting a substance into someone’s back or leg is even possible in a night club.

Of course, the symptoms of being needle spiked (intoxication, balance problems, loss of inhibitions, vomiting, memory loss) are rather similar to drunkenness, it must be said. But what also seems to be happening here is anxiety hysteria. Robert Bartholomew, an authority on mass hysteria, describes anxiety hysteria as an overwhelming stress reaction to anxiety, the symptoms of which are the sudden onset of ‘headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness and general weakness.’[vii] In fact, a very similar pool of symptoms reported by the alleged victims of needle spiking.

And it’s clear why these young women might have been anxious. For two years they have been bombarded with government propaganda promoting fear of a virus that in fact poses little threat to most young people. Add to this the guilt the nightclub goers may feel at mixing with large numbers of people after this had been discouraged for so long. And then there is the needle. Perhaps, this reflects anxiety about the ‘safe and effective’ vaccination.

There’s an understandable desire on the part of authorities to believe alleged victims. And there is no doubt that drinks are sometimes spiked for malicious purposes. However, it’s an uncomfortable truth that sometimes people imagine or invent attacks that never happened.

Young people have suffered enough fear, anxiety, guilt and repression during our era of pandemania, so it’s time the hysterical bubble of needle spiking was pricked.

2. Long Covid

Well, if you thought number three was controversial, strap yourself in for a bumpy ride…. I’m going to suggest that there is a hysterical element to Long Covid. Deep breath.

Long Covid, also known as Post-Covid Syndrome, is when symptoms of the illness persist for longer than twelve weeks. The list of symptoms is long. The NHS gives 28 symptoms of long covid that include palpitations, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, dizziness, pains, anxiety, tinnitus, depression…[viii]

In fact, the various symptoms associated with long covid are common. A large French study found that most symptoms of long covid (with the exception of loss of smell) are just as common in people who never had covid.[ix] And what’s more, symptoms of long covid were more common in people who thought they had had covid, even though tests revealed they had not. This is how the authors summarise their findings:

‘…persistent physical symptoms after COVID-19 infection may be associated more with the belief in having been infected with SARS-CoV-2 than with having laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection.’[x]

Could some, perhaps many, long covid cases be anxious people in anxious times being hypervigilant about their health? Could the reduced exercise and health consequences of lockdowns, where people were fearful of seeking medical help, be part of the picture in explaining these symptoms? It seems to me that the government’s deliberate use of scare tactics has been even more successful than they could imagine.[xi] The relentless fearmongering is causing covid symptoms in people who don’t even have the illness.

I’m not saying that covid doesn’t cause persistent symptoms in some individuals. I’m not even saying that the symptoms reported by suffers are not real. I’m saying that it is plausible to suggest that some long covid sufferers’ symptoms were caused by fear and anxiety and changes in their behaviour due to the pandemic and the way authorities have responded to it. In other words, mass hysteria.

1. Havana Syndrome

Imagine a ray gun that could scramble your victims’ brains just by being pointed at the building they were in. Sounds like something from science fiction. But this is just what American diplomats and other embassy staff around the world are imagining right now. This is the mass hysteria known as Havana Syndrome.

It all started in the newly opened American embassy in Havana, Cuba in 2016. Staff there had been told to expect surveillance and harassment by Cuban security services and were no doubt feeling stress and anxiety. Soon diplomats started coming down with a range of symptoms: fatigue, nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, brain fog and more.[xii]

Sound familiar? Well, in this case many of the victims also reported a piercing, buzzing high-pitched sound. This led to the fear that a sonic or microwave weapon was being used to attack American diplomats causing this array of health complaints.

Recordings were made of this mysterious noise that seemed to be causing the alarming symptoms. And the source of this debilitating sonic mind ray turned out to be…. crickets! The sounds the embassy staff had heard and blamed their symptoms on were the mating calls of Indies short-tailed crickets.[xiii]

This revelation did not stop Havana Syndrome. Instead, it spread to other embassies.[xiv] Anxiety and hysteria are contagious. And because this hysteria could have diplomatic and geopolitical consequences, I’ve put it at the top of my list of the Top Three Mass Hysterias Happening NOW in 2022.

By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

[i] Robert E. Bartholomew, Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics (McFarland and Company: London, 2001) p9

[ii] Elaine Showalter Hystories (Columbia University Press: New York, 1997) p.22

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Bartholomew (2001) pp.33-34

[v] See for example Richard Ofshe and Ethan Waters, Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy & Sexual Hysteria, (Andre Deutsch: London, 1995)


[vii] Bartholomew (2001) p.8


[ix] Joane Matta et al, ‘Association of Self-reported COVID-19 Infection and SARS-CoV-2 Serology Test Results With Persistent Physical Symptoms Among French Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, JAMA Intern Med, 182(1) (2022) doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.6454

[x] Ibid

[xi] For an account of how fear was used to manipulate us during the pandemic see Laura Dodsworth, State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic, (Pinter & Martin, 2021)

[xii] Robert W Baloh and Robert E. Bartholomew, Havana Syndrome, (Springer, 2020) p.1

[xiii] Ibid p.14


Published by Paul Weatherhead

Author of Weird Calderdale, musician and songwriter

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