The Annandale Secondary School Syndrome
Guyana Chronicle
December 3, 2006

Related Links: Articles on schools
Letters Menu Archival Menu

FOR want of a scientific diagnosis and a proper labelling, the author chooses to call this phenomenon the “Annandale Secondary School” Syndrome.

It may be a form of conversion disorder or hysteria. There are no physiological symptoms but the pain is real to the sufferer.

The hospital doctors were baffled but treated the students as if they had food poisoning. Some students took soft drinks, others did not.

After blood sampling had been taken the doctors had determined that there was nothing wrong with the students.

The problem is that individuals assumed the “cause” to be the “Dutchman” or ghosts or devil with people offering to help using their own “cures”.

It is interesting to note that most of the students were female and from the same school.

It is the opinion of this author, without more facts and symptoms, that this a type of conversion disorder, sometimes labelled as hysteria.

This is not an uncommon problem as it has been documented as hysteria, especially during the Middle Ages in Europe.

It is similar to an incident at Crabwood Creek Primary School about twelve years ago.

The most recent American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM TR, 2000) dropped the word hysteria for conversion disorder.

The term hysteria comes from Greek which meant “the uterus”. It was wrongly believed that the disease affected only women, especially when the uterus would wander from its place of origin.

It is a disease of the mind where individuals who share a common bond are likely to be affected as a group. This is better understood in a mother and daughter when a child who identifies with the mother will develop feelings and attitudes as the mother.

For example, the mother fears spiders or creeping and crawling things around the house, and the daughter will develop similar symptoms of fear – a shared neurosis.

It is again noted that the Annandale students were mostly girls about the same age.

In prehistoric times, diseases were considered to be outside the body. It was assumed that spiritual forces would attack the person and this would be purged by such practices as exorcism.

Later, men such as Hippocrates (the father or medicine) postulated that disease originated in the body and there was an imbalance of the fluid matter.

In the Middle Ages the idea of evil forces was again revived. In the 1800s, Sigmund Freud attempted to find a physical site for mental functioning. His followers tried to explain mental illness caused by emotional conflicts, repression, symbolic behaviour and fantasies.

Psychosomatic diseases are when the different organs of the body may be affected through stress or anxieties viz. heart attack, high blood pressure, ulcer, etc. These are called psychosomatic or psycho-physiological disorders.

There is a neurotic or conversion disorder – the mind affecting the body; converting mind to body.

The Austrian Psychoanalyst Freud (1856–1939), with his colleague Joseph Bleuler (1845-1925), used the term hysteria as a type of neurosis and suggested that such conditions arise from traumatic experiences in early childhood, transfer of biological drives (id) from childhood to later years. A third factor is that when the personality ego is unable to control the powerful id drive.

These symptoms are attention getting and may be explicated by the individual.

Among the characteristics are behaviours including:

** vain and ego-centric

** labile and excitable (emotionally unstable)

** dramatic attention getting

** consciousness of sex

** demanding

Psychogenic diseases have no organic base and are often dismissed as unreal and are linked to psychological factors or conflicts. They are not under the voluntary control of the individual.

A soldier who is afraid to go to the battle front may suddenly develop paralysis of the legs. A woman afraid of facing her angry boss may develop a headache or stomach ache which appears real to her.

The person may take pain killers, see a specialist to no avail and much time and money are spent in the process. In the meantime there may be adverse effects of the many drugs – the catrogemic problem.

The person at first may seem warm and friendly and even flatter the individual and thus seem genuinely likable – you may even want to help them. The person may become self-deprecating. Such behaviours are more in rural than urban areas as quite evident in Japan.

Factors are

** age group

** grades

** race

** gender

The classic symptoms are (DSMIVTR) – Text Revision – labelled also as pseudo-neurological:

** The motor and sensory functions are affected

** They are not intentionally provided or feigned

** There is marked distress

Problems in coordination:

** paralysis or logical weakness of a particular movement

** lump in the throat

** urinary intension

** loss of sense of touch

** double vision

** blindness and/or deafness

** convulsions

** hallucinations

The pain the person feels may even require hospitalisation. The person may even become an invalid and suffer impairment in lifestyle.

They may become excessive to the point of blocking recovery and resuming a normal lifestyle.

There is no short cut to the process. A proper diagnosis would be useful to determine the “cause” or symptoms.

The most frequent is a one-to-one interview and noting of the symptoms – verbal and non-verbal. Some symptoms may be gathered from family members or close associates who have noted the symptoms.

The person may be asked to write a personal history of a few pages, followed up with a discussion of these. Psychological tests are available – such as Sentence Completion Test, Thematic Appreciation Test, Draw a Person Test, Rorschach. All of which will attempt to examine the unconscious conflicts and anxieties that may exist.

Some of the tests are sophisticated and may need trained personnel. However, one can derive much information from the simplest tests.

It is important for the counsellor, teacher and parent to examine their own attitudes or cynicism to these problems because they can be derived from a cynical problem. There is a need to examine the individual to ensure and exclude any physiological problem. This is followed by a personal history of illness, fear, anxieties and coping devices.

The highest mental/emotional level at which the individual has functioned up to this time in his life must be noted – primary school, high school, college, etc. It is important to examine the individual for what stress and anxieties have or may have been impinging on the individual’s life, fear, stress at this time.

In counselling there may be need for family support. The next step would be to help the person become aware of his own psychological functioning – fears, anxieties, coping devices, etc.

The person may be allowed to lean on someone for a time – a significant other – a family member or even the counsellor. He may show regressed behaviour of being fed, clothed by someone else, etc. Recognise the defences or coping and not to remove them immediately.

It is important to listen to what is said and more important what is meant. It is important not to dwell on the “sick aspect” as it can become overwhelming and detract from focusing on the real and immediate feeling.

Counselling should help the person take on more responsibility and learn to listen to themselves. It must be emphasised that since this is a disease of the mind and body, the mind or belief system of the individual will make a great deal of difference.

It could be the priest, the obeah man, the doctor. What would be significant would be for the sufferer to become self-aware of the cause, the symptoms and the result of the illness.

The use of the priest or obeah man may be useful if the belief system is such that the “patient” would accept and relate to it.

In this instance it is mind over manner.

------------------ STUDENTS of Annandale Secondary School, embroiled in a controversy over a mystery illness allegedly affecting several children, have been temporarily relocated for the school environment to be cleaned to ensure there is no health threat, an official said last week.

Regional Education Officer, Ms. Dudmattie Singh, made the announcement Wednesday when she met parents to update them on developments at the school where classes have been disrupted.

Students had been staying away since several went down to the mystery illness about two weeks ago.

Under the temporary relocation arrangement, Singh said, students from forms one to three will attend classes at the Annandale Primary School, while those in forms four and five will be housed at the Lusignan Primary School. At both locations classes will run from 12:30 h to 16:30 h, she said.

Enhancing the environment, she said, will include fumigating the building, repairing the sewage system and a general cleaning and sprucing up of the environment.

The exercise will be overlooked by officials of the Environmental Protection Agency and the health care system, the officer said.

Classes at the school are scheduled to be resumed by Tuesday, Singh said.

Last Tuesday, the canteen, at the centre of the controversy over the illness of the affected children, was demolished resulting from a decision by the Regional Democratic Council of Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) in conjunction with the owner of the demolished structure.

Some parents claimed it was built on the grave of Dutchmen and that this somehow caused the mystery illness. They demanded that the canteen be torn down.

The controversy at the school broke out when 12 students reportedly became ill but after being examined at the Georgetown Hospital Corporation (GPHC) doctors concluded that nothing medically was wrong with them.