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The story came across the wires the other day: in Upstate New York, near Rochester, in Le Roy, "the baffling case of twelve teenage girls at one school who mysteriously fell ill with Tourette's-like symptoms of tics and verbal outbursts."

Jerking, uncontrolled body movements erupted in this school, out of nowhere. A girl with one of the worst effects simply woke up with it, to the point of having to halt going to school; her arms flailed without her wanting them to. It was like something else had taken over. A three-month-long investigation by the school district and state health department uncovered no communicable disease nor environmental causes.

Still, some say it may be due to toxic chemicals. A psychiatrist from Amherst who is treating some of the girls ventured forth with the "diagnosis" of "conversion disorder," or "mass hysteria," reported a network.

That became the explanation after classic Tourette's syndrome was ruled out. (Once considered a rare and bizarre syndrome, Tourette's is often associated with the exclamation of obscene words or "socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks (coprolalia)," says Wikipedia. "It is no longer considered a rare condition, but it is not always correctly identified because most cases are mild and the severity of tics decreases for most children as they pass through adolescence." The  New York school is in a general vicinity where American Masonry, Mormonism, and spiritualism (a religion based on clairvoyants and mediums) first erupted. It is steeped in Indian history.

Tourette's syndrome?

Mass hysteria?

For years, students in parts of Africa like Kenya have rather regularly experienced similar eruptions and also in places like India. There they have called in exorcists.

Conversion disorder -- or demonism?

We are hearing more and more from those who work in psychiatric wards and are speaking out with their own conclusions: that psychological and psychiatric terms often are used to mask possession. One nurse estimated that half the people in the psychiatric ward where she works are spiritual cases (as in the case of the tombs at Gadarenes). It is a difficult discernment in this field where it is hard to find a balance between what can be labeled as psychiatric, sociological, or psychological problems and what may be caused or exacerbated by evil spirits -- in other words, are not mental problems at their origin.

It is perhaps no wonder that permanent cures so often evade psychiatrists.

History is replete with strange mental epidemics. In July of 1518, "the Dancing Plague" was a case of a mania that occurred in Strasbourg, France. Numerous people took to dancing for days without rest, and over the period of about one month, most of the people died from heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion. On the western shore of Lake Victoria in Africa, in the 1960s, dozens of students were struck with fits of uncontrollable laughter that lasted for weeks. In recent times, secondary schools in Kenya's Central province have been closed and students sent home following alleged invasion by "ghosts," according to the Daily Nation. The outbreak spread to other districts.  In one case, three hundred were affected. Kenya's education minister dismissed it as the imagination. Others blamed cults based on drugs and music stars. Last May, students at a Mdzimba High School in South Africa were unable to attend classes. "The affected children, mostly consisting of girls and just a few boys, are seen running and screaming from invisible apparitions that often instruct them to gaze into a nearby pond. In this pond they are shown a list of students targeted by the demons, to whom they run and inform of their discovery. The children claim that they hear the principalís voice in their heads telling them to drink from the schoolís tap.  They see visions, speak in strange languages, and if held down, they writhe and scream in agony," said a report. There have been many other outbreaks on the Dark Continent -- where tribal occultic religions, with their witch doctors, are so focused.

Can we so easily brush it away as "kid's stuff"?

In the literature of parapsychology, it is well-known that adolescents, particularly girls going through puberty (when so much nervous energy is released), are most prone to the "poltergeist" (noisy or violent "ghost") syndrome. 

How much of this is actual hysteria? No doubt, some (the power of suggestion is very strong with the young). How much has another root? For that matter, how many psychiatric ailments in general may have a demonic etiology?

We called a Catholic psychiatric nurse-practitioner from Georgia, Kimberly H. Littrell, president of the Promedical Psychiatry Group and Research Center in Loganville, who was at our recent Atlanta retreat, and who treats psychiatric patients on an outpatient basis, for her perspective.

"Everyday I see people who are experiencing some type of possession, some manifestation of the spiritual battle," she told us, forthrightly. "There are things that are clearly out of the diagnostic categories. Most people in the field want to give it a nice psychiatric code and move on. But the enemy is not just imbalances in [the neurotransmitters] dopamine and serotonin. It is Satan."

In one case, says Kimberly, a strange voice challenging the nurse erupted out of a woman who had an abortion. In another case, a patient coughed up a nail. She says that the devil seems to especially target those who can have the greatest impact on other people, such as teachers and clergy. "And I'm not speaking about priests," she said. "I'm talking about all kinds of clergy, married or not. Celibacy is not the issue." She has witnessed bizarre "epidemics" of her own, such as a recent spate of fifteen patients who all said they had their sleep disrupted at 3:31 a.m.

And so we discern. When we delve too much into the actual phenomena, the wrong spirit can arise. Here too one searches for balance -- between exposing an issue and giving it too much energy.

When fear is caused, it is counterproductive. Attacks most often stop through simple prayer. Fascination is understandable but must take a backseat to fasting and prayerful action (in Mark 2:9, Christ tells us that some spirits come out only with prayer and fasting).

It is a time when the veil is thinning; it is a time when spirits seem to have been activated around us. The buffer: Bible-reading, Confession, the Rosary, and taking Communion. Even deliverance ministers can be affected. The ultimate effect of possession, claims Kimberly, is suicide. "When a patient is taking six hundred milligrams of a psychiatric drug and still wants to kill herself, it tells you something," she says. Let us pray for her ministry -- as well as for the discernment and the awakening of many in the field of psychology, not to mention the afflicted, from Upstate New York to the forests of Africa.

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