Classes were suspended in Bohol on Friday when more than 200 students suddenly fainted and had seizures while attending a Holy Mass.
In a Facebook post, Mayor Janette Aurestila-Garcia said that 250 students of San Jose National High School (SJNSH) in Talibon, Bohol were struck by a case of “mass hysteria.”
135 of them were admitted to the Garcia Memorial Provincial Hospital (GMPH), with two still confined but in stable condition.
According to Atty. Lenard Querubin, a witness, the students exhibited "unusual behaviors" and fainted while attending the mass.
His video, which he shared on Facebook, shows a scene of chaos, with some students being carried to ambulances while others are being fanned as the Hail Mary is being recited in the background.
Local emergency responders were present to assist. Classes were also suspended that day.
"Praise God okay ra sila," he said.
The unexplained incident caused a wave of fear and speculation, with some locals believing that the students were possessed by evil spirits. However, experts believe that mass hysteria is a more plausible explanation.
According to the authors of Companion to Psychiatric Studies, mass hysteria, or mass psychologic illness, refers to "apparently contagious dissociative phenomena that take place in large groups of people or institutions under conditions of anxiety."
Garcia urged the public to avoid sharing misinformation to avoid stress among victims.
The Church has yet to comment on the incident.
Similar outbreaks have also been reported in schools across the Philippines. In March 2023, 13 students in Barili, Cebu were "possessed by evil spirits in the middle of their class." But Fr. Reynaldo Cui, who performed the exorcism rites, claimed the incident was a "mass hysteria."
"I can see that Typhoon Odette caused a lot of damage, in addition to the elemental spirits. Due to the many rooms that were destroyed, they were crowded into one room, so most likely the children’s condition will probably worsen if they are under a lot of stress," he said in Bisaya.
In 2018, some Grade 7 students in a school in Dalaguete were acting violently and claimed to see paranormal activity. However, a teacher believes that it could be triggered by "hunger, emotional imbalance, and troubled family backgrounds."