So, it seems that Long Covid is not as widespread as we were told it was. More importantly – and, yes, this is the more difficult thing to discuss – maybe Long Covid is not as real as we were told it was, either. Maybe the fairly typical problems that a minority of people experience after a virus were, in this case, unjustifiably blown up into a whole new sickness. Alongside examining the measurable, physical prevalence of long-lasting symptoms in people who have been infected with Covid – something it is very important for society to do – we must also analyse the cultural components to Long Covid. How much did the culture of fear around Long Covid help to convince people that they had it? And did a broader culture of victimhood likewise help to coax people to self-identify as suffering from this new, seemingly fascinating ailment, and even to embrace Long Covid as a kind of identity?
From SMITHSONIANMAG.COM, 6th March, 2017
The schools fell like dominoes across Portugal in May 2006, one after another calling upon government officials with reports of dozens, then hundreds of students struck with rashes, dizziness and difficulty breathing, just as year-end exams approached. Was it a mysterious allergic reaction, a chemical spill, a virus? After digging deeper, medical practitioners came up with a new culprit: “Strawberries With Sugar,” or in Portuguese, “Morangos com Acucar.” No, not the food—the vector for this disease was a popular teen soap opera with a saccharine title. Just before the outbreak in the real schools, a similar, life-threatening illness had plagued the teenaged characters in their fictional school.
The Portuguese students weren’t suffering from a virus or allergies: they’d come down with mass psychogenic illness.
In a psychogenic illness, a psychological trigger—rather than a biological or environmental one—causes actual physical symptoms. As sociologist Robert Bartholomew explains: “Mass hysteria is the placebo effect in reverse. People can literally make themselves ill from nothing more than an idea.” Bartholomew has studied mass hysteria extensively, and written about outbreaks around the world. “Parents and students fight the diagnosis as no one wants to accept that their kids were ‘hysterical,’” he said by email. “In reality, it’s a collective stress reaction and found in normal people.”
A phenomenon in which social trauma or anxiety combines with a suspicious event to produce psychosomatic symptoms, such as nausea, difficulty breathing, and paralysis. If many individuals come to believe that the psychosomatic outbreak is connected to the cause of the trauma or anxiety, these symptoms can spread rapidly throughout a population.
In December 2005 a mysterious illness marked by headache, fever, faintness, and numbness in extremities occurred in 13 school children in the Shelkov region of Chechnya. Many believed the illness was caused by a Russian chemical weapons attack, which precipitated the rapid spread of similar symptoms throughout the region. Medical officials determined the episode was a case of psychosomatic contagion—mass psychogenic illness—brought on by anxiety over Russian military activities in the area. There is no evidence the illnesses were caused by chemical weapons.