Debatable mental conditions – 3: Unmasking hysteria

Emotion is one of the basic traits of human race. The quality of expressing emotions helps in defining a person’s behavior. For instance, a reserved person is identified by his or her way to express emotions in a controlled manner. Similarly, hysteria is associated with a person’s emotions. It can be defined as the lack of control over acts and emotions.

Identified as a mental condition, hysteria is characterized by emotional outbursts often accompanied with sudden seizures of unconsciousness due to intense anxiety. Though the condition was listed in fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) under the ‘mental disorders’ chapter, it was removed later from the manual. Many experts believe hysteria to be a personality disorder. This article takes a dip into the history and evolution of hysteria to understand its position as either personality or mental disorder.

History, hysteria and women

In the ancient history, hysteria was characterized as a mental disorder specific to women. The term ‘hysteria’ was first used by Greek physician Hippocrates in the 5th century BC, who believed the condition occurred due to movement of uterus and differentiated it from epilepsy. According to Hippocrates, while epilepsy was caused due to disorder of the brain, hysteria occurred due to the abnormal movements of uterus in the body.

Besides, history also points to an era that associated hysteria and epilepsy with witchcraft. The emotional outbursts during hysteria were linked with demonic possession, especially if they were accompanied by tremors, convulsions or loss of consciousness. The perception was more prevalent in the 17th century, where women suffering from hysteria were burnt or condemned to die. However, the regressive take on the condition came to an end at the end of the 18th century and it was rediscovered as a disease.

Causes and symptoms

Although hysteria occurs in both men and women, its association with the latter is primarily due to the bodily functions. Statistically, hysteria is more common in young women between 14 and 25 years of age. According to experts, the body of a woman in this age group undergoes rapid changes like menstruation, which causes a number of hormonal imbalances that set off these instances of hysteria.

Outburst of hysteria is quite common these days. Its symptoms include heaviness in the limbs, cramps, wild painful cries, loss of consciousness, weakness along with emotional instability.

Dubious status of hysteria in DSM

Notably, in the first edition of DSM in 1952, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) did not include hysteria under mental diseases, despite it being the most common psychiatric disease of the time. Although APA did not consider hysteria as “non-disease”, it renamed it “conversion reaction” and “somatization disorder”.

In the second edition published in 1968, hysteria became a category under which came hysterical personality that was characterized by self-dramatization and overreaction. The third edition of DSM published in 1980 and revised in 1987 specifically differentiated hysteria from the neurosis and accordingly was renamed as conversion disorder. The fourth edition of DSM released in 1994 and revised in 2000 witnessed the term “hysteria” under personality disorders. Finally, in the rough draft of DSM-5 released in 2010, histrionic personality disorder was completely removed from the list.

Seeking help for mental disorder

In the absence of an established theory, hysteria is considered as behavior rather than a mental disorder or a disease. Often it is also known as a defense mechanism against restless and painful emotions which unconsciously transfers the distress to the body. Moreover, people with hysteria operates more on emotions, than on logic, which, often alienates them from others, causing stress. It is important to give a clinical counseling so that an individual gets an insight to his or her problem and accordingly, seek treatment.

If you or a loved one is suffering from any kind of mental disorder, you can seek help from 247 Mental Health Helpline to know about mental health disorders. You can call us at our 24/7 helpline number (855) 653-8178 or can chat online with our representatives, who can guide you to one of the best mental health rehabilitation centers and mental health facilities in your vicinity.

Read the other articles of the series “Debatable mental conditions”:

  1. Unraveling the mysteries of dissociative identity disorder
  2. Understanding gender identity disorder