Danvers, Massachusetts has a long and, well, unusual history.
Originally known as Salem Village, the mid-sized town (with a population of 26,493 according to a 2010 census) is best known for the Salem witch trials and being the site of one of Massachusetts’ oldest psychiatric hospitals. While rarely appearing in the news otherwise, the town of Danvers got more international publicity that they likely wanted starting in January 2013. That was when about two dozen teenagers at the Essex Agricultural and Technical School in Danvers began reporting bizarre symptoms including “mysterious” hiccups and vocal tics. After the Massachusetts State Health Department ruled out any physical cause for the outbreak, the epidemic gradually subsided over the next few months. Despite speculations that the outbreak may be due to mass psychogenic illness(MPI), the State Health Department has not made any official statement on the cause to date.
While the location of the outbreak seems ironic given Danvers’ legendary history, epidemics of MPI have become increasingly common over the past few years, especially in the United States. According to New Zealand sociologist and skeptic Robert Bartholomew, the Danvers epidemic resembles other cases that occurred. Bartholomew has studied over 6,000 cases of MPI dating back to the 16th century and argues that social media may be playing a strong role in the recent upsurge of cases.
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