Hysteria is a very unique and abnormal mental disease. What makes it so interesting is that it causes physical symptoms that someone would not normally experience. "Mental conflicts are unconsciously converted to symptoms that appear to be physical, but for which no organic cause is found"(Hysteria 1). One major outburst of hysteria occurred in 1692, resulting in the deaths of twenty-four innocent lives. "By the time hysteria had spent itself, twenty-four people had died"(TWHSTSV 2). This type of hysteria was mass hysteria, where a group of people are in a frenzy as opposed to just one individual. Evidently, hysteria is a very serious disease and has the potential to cause many avoidable deaths.
Mass hysteria is a frenzy that has the potential to effect an entire community, state or possibly even country or nation. "[It is] a condition where a group of people dash about wildly, screaming and sometimes talking as if another person is in them; experiencing rapid breathing, spasms of extremities or even fainting"(Hayes 1).
In some ways, it can be look on as a chain reaction. "It is often caused by new problems that worsen existing difficulties"(TWHSTSV 2). When one person sees another running about wildly and finds out what the cause is, he or she will do the same; until eventually the idea spreads to the entire population. Some problems that cause these are "overly strict regulations, lack of open communication between the authorities and the residents, as well as inadequate healthy recreational outlets"(Hayes 1). All these issues are things that if performed, can help prevent or calm an outbreak of mass hysteria.
In the Salem Witch Trials, the "existing difficulties" that led up to the witchcraft theory were ordinary stresses of seventeenth century life in Massachusetts. These include "a strong belief in the devil, factions among Salem Village fanatics and rivalry with nearby Salem Town, a recent small pox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes"(D'Amario 1). All these issues led to rising fear and suspicion. "Soon prisons were filled with more that 150 men surrounding Salem; their names had been 'cried out' by tormented young girls as the cause of their pain. All would await trial for a crime punishable by death, the practice of witchcraft"(D'Amario 1). Many theories exist as to why these girls behaved as they did and caused the witchcraft hysteria. One theory states: "they had eaten bread contaminated with a hallucinogenic fungus"(TWHSTSV 2), which supposedly caused them to act as they did. Another says: "they were bored and got caught up in the sudden attention they were receiving and the power they were exercising"(TWHSTSV 2). "Still others contend that the accusations were the result of old jealousies among neighbors. And Chadwick Hansen in his book 'Witchcraft at Salem' claims that he girls were the victims of clinical hysteria themselves"(TWHSTSV 2).
Whatever the true cause of the mass hysteria during the Salem Witch Trials, by the end 150 had been accused and twenty-four lost their lives. Nineteen people had died by hanging, and one even by being crushed by heavy stones. "Those accused who did not confess to working with the Devil were convicted, imprisoned, and killed"(Witch 1). In the viewpoint of many Americans, "it is considered a tragedy that American society had to witness"(Hayes 1). People who were convicted really had no chance of living. If the people of Salem asked the convicted person whether or not he/she was a witch and the person said "no," he/she would be killed for not admitting it. Likewise, if he/she said that he/she was in fact a witch, then they would be killed for actually being one.
Without a doubt, the mass hysteria that developed in Salem in 1692 was very serious and tragic. It was a group of crazy maniacs who killed innocent people to try to come up with an explanation for unexplainable events. This is a great example of the consequences hysteria can lead to, and how dangerous of a disease it really is.