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I have come across many reported incidents of hysteria in schools and in most occasions they involved schoolgirls. My earliest memory of an incident of hysteria was in a religious school somewhere in the northern Malaysian state. For days the girls would take turn to become hysterical, screaming away and shaking themselves uncontrollably. The thing is the action was infectious. One girl started to scream and wriggle on the ground and others would follow suit, even some teachers were not spared of this phenomenon.

Yes, you guessed it! The school authorities promptly brought in “Bomohs” (shamans) to the school and asked them to chase away the spirits which they thought had taken control of the poor girls, making them go into screaming frenzies. The Bomohs had a whale of time telling the authorities that the spirits were angry and needed to be appeased. Apparently the incidents persisted despite the “mumbo-jumbo”. Then I believe the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister directed that the affected girls be sent to Penang Hospital to be treated by a Psychiatrist.

Then the beans began to spill. The girls were very frightened and depressed when they found out that one of the male teachers (an ustaz) had been peeping at them in their dormitory. They were scared to inform on him as he was a “respectable” man of religion no less. The Peeping Tom must have had a hold on them that they were helpless and hide their angry emotion which later had reached to such a stage that they could no longer control it….. then one started to scream her heads off to be followed by others. That was how they let off their high-pressure mental steam, they wailed and shook wildly.

Suffice to say, the matter with the bloody ustaz was resolved amicably by getting him out of the school system ( not sure whether he was punished as everything was hush-hush) and the girls were given counselling to revert to their normal schoolgirls’ lives and the situation in the school.. hey Presto, returned to normal with the despicable “spirit” gone.

Hysteria commonly occurs in an environment which does not allow an individual to express herself. Most likely the root of the problem lies with someone in the controlling position or something perceived as sacred, too dangerous or too embarrassing to talk about. The traditional Malay community is very famous for sweeping unsavoury incidents under the carpet because of “malu” (shame) hence the members, especially the vulnerable females, have no recourse for problem solution so they “act mad” so that they would get attention. Hysteria is a cry for help.

The schoolgirl being coaxed not to jump off the building

So I read this morning with sadness in my heart about the school girl in Temerloh Pahang who suddenly became hysterical and attempted to jump off from the school building. God, she was only 15, what emotional upheaval had she been bottling up? I hope the authorities would find out and help her deal with her psycho-social problem (demon) so that she can get on with her studies. Her problem may be either family or school-related. Problems such as bullying and extortion as well as social isolation can drive children to this stress level. Family, friends and teachers will need to support her.

Don’t even think of wandering spirits here because you are not going to solve the problem if you attribute hysteria to nonsensical supernatural. If you do, the only people who benefit from these incidents are the “Bomohs” and the hysteria will persist or recur after a short-lived relief.

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