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Did "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" lead to the suicide of a teenage girl?

Blog topics seem to come in waves, where I’ll be stuck on more deeply examining a topic for days, only to have that topic dry up. Sometimes, you, my readers, make me aware of a topic. This is an example of the latter case. It’s something I had been debating about whether to blog about because I just wasn’t sure what to make of it, and it’s also a very, very depressing—even tragic—story. But the drip, drip, drip of people pointing me to the story reminded me that with great power comes great responsibility. (OK, with middling blog power comes a modicum of responsibility.) So I thought I’d try to address it. It’s a story that started popping up in the UK press last week and continued into this week about a 15 year old girl in Chadlington, Oxon named Jenny Fry, whose body was found hanging from a tree in June.

Any time a teen kills herself—or apparently kills herself, as the coroner testified and her mother believed that she might not have intended to kill herself—it is an enormous tragedy. Few know the pain that Jenny’s parents must have gone through—must still be going through. What makes this particular death unusual, be it suicide or the accidental death of a girl going too far in trying to send out a cry for help, is the reason being reported in the press for her despair. That reason? Take a look at some stories published over the last week or so about her death:

You get the idea. There is also a Facebook page RIP Jenny Fry that has been posting updates on the story.

All of these news stories more or less take at face value the claims of Jenny’s parents, Debra Fry and Charles Newman, that their daughter suffered from electrohypersensitivity (EHS) that manifested itself with various health problems that began three years before the girl’s tragic end. What brought her story to the fore again was an inquest held last week:

A schoolgirl was found dead in woodland after suffering an allergic reaction to her school’s WiFi that made her life a misery, an inquest heard.

The parents of 15-year-old Jenny Fry claim that she suffered from electro-hypersensitivity (EHS), which caused her to suffer tiredness, headaches and bladder problems.

Her mother Debra told the hearing that Jenny was badly affected by the wireless internet connections at Chipping Norton School in Oxfordshire, where she was a pupil.

After becoming increasingly distressed by her symptoms – which were never investigated by a doctor – the schoolgirl was found hanged in Brooke Woods, near her home in Chadlington, in June 11 this year.

Earlier in the day she had texted a friend telling her she was not going to school that day, the inquest heard.

Mrs Fry and her husband Charles Newman told Oxfordshire Coroners’ Court two weeks ago that they believed their daughter became ill because of WiFi, and had removed the internet connection from their own home.

They told today how she would often hide herself in empty classrooms and would only sit in certain seats in lessons so that she would be as far away from the router as possible, they said.

Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Fry said: WiFi and children do not mix. I believe that WiFi killed my daughter.’

Found with the girl was a note:

Jenny was found with a note in her diary and there was another saved on her laptop.

It read: “I have no hope for humanity; we are destroying this beautiful earth as we speak. I am insignificant, an insignificant number on someone’s screen and so is my life, a tiny blip in the whole existence of the universe. And I find it hard to be hopeful when I can hardly enjoy anything any more.”

The inquest also heard Jenny previously spoke of suicidal thoughts in November 2014 following the death of close friend Tom Boomer in March last year.

Mental health professionals will no doubt immediately recognize that this note sounds like something written by a profoundly depressed girl, particularly in light of her having exhibited suicidal ideation a year before her hanging, which implies that her depression had been going on for a while. Moreover, teen depression very frequently goes unrecognized by family and even physicians. Given this information, it’s hard not to think that Jenny Fry might very well have benefitted from psychiatric care, which could potentially have prevented this horrible end. After all, teens suffering from depression frequently complain of all manner of physical complaints very similar to what Jenny complained of, particularly severe headaches, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. It’s also strange that there’s no real medical record to determine whether Jenny suffered from depression versus something else, as her symptoms appear never to have been evaluated by a physician.

Be that as it may, this is a skeptic and medical blog, which means that I have to ask: Is there anything to the parents’ claims? I’ve discussed the claims of “electro-hypersensitivity” (frequently abbreviated as EHS) before as being at the very least highly implausible, particularly the focus on wifi. In the modern world, we are bathed in electromagnetic waves from many sources, not just wifi. There are radio waves, mobile phone radiation, electromagnetic waves from electrical appliances and computers themselves, and many, many other sources.

Before I discuss evidence, though, in cases like this, where several months have passed between death and inquest, I find it helpful to try to find original reports of when the death happened. Using the local newspaper, Cotswold Journal, it wasn’t too hard for me to find accounts of her funeral:

Curiously, neither article mentions the cause of death. One just reported that she “was found on Thursday June 11” and was “found deceased at the scene” with the death “being treated as unexplained but not suspicious,” while the other reported that she “had been found by her mother, Debbie, in woods in Mill End.” The only hint of suicide was in a report that the Reverend conducting her funeral “told the congregation of the shock and disbelief everyone had felt at the news and manner of Jenny’s death.” We forget the stigma that suicide still produces even today, and, here, in this small town newspaper, we see evidence of that stigma in the fact that the reports of her funeral do not even mention the manner of her death and instead only hint at it obliquely. There is no mention of EHS or suicide or anything else about the circumstances of Jenny’s death.

Reading the stories about Jenny Fry, I learned that in 2012 she started complaining of a variety of symptoms, including cripplingly severe headaches and fatigue, resulting in difficulty concentrating, as well as unspecified “bladder problems.” So how did Jenny and her parents come to the conclusion that it was wifi that was causing her symptoms? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I can make a fairly educated guess. Humans, as we know, are pattern-seeking animals. Whenever a person starts suffering from unexplained symptoms, it is natural to try to figure out what’s causing those symptoms. Because our “pattern detectors” in our brains tend to be oversensitive and because we also suffer from confirmation bias, the phenomenon of remembering things that conform to what we’ve come to believe and to forget things that do not, it’s not hard to speculate that at some point Jenny or her parents heard about EHS and started looking for correlations with wifi exposure, perhaps consciously, perhaps even unconsciously. Then confirmation bias did the rest, with Jenny and her parents over time coming to see a correlation between the severity of Jenny’s symptoms and exposure to wifi.

There’s another issue before that I’ve discussed, and that has to do with the school. Note how the reports indicate that Jenny would get sick at school. If Jenny’s symptoms were related to stress at school, which they very well could have been, that would make sense. It would also make sense that her symptoms would be better at home. Wifi could just be the thing that the parents and this poor girl latched on to as the explanation for her illness at school. One notes that Jenny’s parents state that they removed the wifi from their home, but I couldn’t find any report of whether Jenny’s symptoms at home improved after that, although it wouldn’t surprise me if she did solely on the power of confirmation bias and suggestion. Moreover, removing wifi from the home doesn’t necessarily eliminate wifi signals. Whenever I need to log onto the wifi network, my computer detects wifi signals from several of the surrounding houses, some of them nearly as strong as my own wifi network signal. That’s not even counting all the other electromagnetic signals coming from TV, radio, computer equipment, appliances, and the electrical wiring of the whole house.

Claims otherwise and disappointingly credulous articles notwithstanding, EHS is not a real syndrome. It’s not as though there hasn’t been research on the issue, either. There have been enough studies that meta-analyses can be done, and the findings are consistent. Researchers have been unable to relate exposure to electromagnetic radiation to patients symptoms, and, most importantly, in double-blind studies “electro-sensitive” patients are unable to detect whether the offending radiation source has been turned on or not. Even the World Health Organization concludes:

In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Despite the feeling of some people that more research needs to be done, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals. Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. However, some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.

That “needs more research” bit is the same sort of hedge that Cochrane Reviews always include, even for highly improbable treatments. The bottom line is that, despite lots of research, no one has ever been able to convincingly show that (1) low energy electromagnetic radiation (as from wifi routers or cell phones) has any deleterious effects on health or (2) people claiming to be “electrosensitive” or “allergic to wifi” are able to tell when they are being exposed to wifi or cell phone signals that they believe to be the cause of their symptoms. The overwhelming evidence supports the conclusion that electromagnetic radiation of the sort produced by wifi routers does not cause health issues and that EHS is a psychosomatic disorder.

Let me be clear about one thing, though. Just like the case with Morgellon’s disease, just because EHS is psychosomatic does not mean that those suffering from EHS are not actually suffering. They are. I have no doubt that Jenny’s headaches, fatigue, and inability to concentrate were very real and very distressing. I have no doubt that she was suffering. What I question, based on existing evidence, is the parents’ conclusion that her symptoms were caused by radiation from wifi routers, because that evidence does not support the existence of EHS or and “allergy” to wifi. I realize that her parents can’t accept this now, but I hope that someday they will, because their campaign to remove wifi from public schools is not going to help anyone’s health but, if successful, will cause a great deal of inconvenience to teachers and students.

The story of Jenny Fry is unbelievably sad. No one with the least bit of humanity can help but feel great empathy and sympathy for Jenny’s parents and Jenny herself. However, no matter how badly I might feel over their loss and the very premature death of their 15 year old girl, I nonetheless feel obligated to point out that they are blaming the wrong thing. Wifi almost certainly did not kill Jenny Fry. It’s far more likely that depression did. Unfortunately, it’s easier to accept an external cause of her death than it is to accept an internal one.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

103 replies on “Did "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" lead to the suicide of a teenage girl?”

That’s not even counting all the other electromagnetic signals coming from TV, radio, computer equipment, appliances, and the electrical wiring of the whole house.

Also, she “texted a friend.” I’m assuming on a cell phone. Pretty sure those are rife with electromagnetic radiation.

What makes me so angry about this is it’s clear the girl had some sort of issue, probably a form of mental illness/duress, and not only did she not receive the help she clearly needed, but now it’s getting buried under “electromagnetic sensitivity.” This nonsense, and other nonsenses, blur very real problems that will continue to not be addressed properly. We have so many issues with adolescents attempting and succeeding in suicide attempts, do we need to add BS to the list and divert from the real problems?

Like parents who attribute ASDs to vaccines, Jenny’s parents apparently felt the need to disregard her psychological issues and instead focus upon wifi. External causes for

-sorry- accidentally hit the submit.

External causes are a way of dismissing the reality of symptoms and syndromes that originate IN the person – a way of avoiding (imagined) stigma.

It’s interesting that the issue of suicide is neatly sidestepped in the press as well.

Stories like this highlight the need to fight against the stigma of mental illness. When someone suffers a broken bone, no one gets all hush-hush about it, using euphemisms and avoiding the subject as much as possible. Same thing if someone suffers an infection. But mental illness is every bit as much in need of support and treatment as any “visible” disease.

BTW, I have to plug Felicia Day’s book, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), as she addresses very frankly the issue of mental illness, anxiety, and depression. I’ve seen comments from a lot of people who’ve been motivated to get help after they’ve read it.

So she had a cell phone that she used to text friend and a laptop that she used to write a suicide note, both putting out plenty of EMF.

So she had a cell phone that she used to text friend and a laptop that she used to write a suicide note, both putting out plenty of EMF.


So it must be that special selective electromagnetic hypersensitivity, that only affects people when they’re at school. It doesn’t affect people when they are using devices that they want to use, like their phones and laptops.


Complicated. Too much receiving is painful, sometimes to the point of death. Etc. etc. I sound like an absolute crazy person right now, and I frankly am, so don’t worry about believing me if you don’t want to.

Sending lessens the pain of receiving. Email, social media, text message, conversation in person, etc. Therapeutic journailing (which I always thought was bullsh!t) is helpful also. Letters to the senders. Watching movies and reading books is a good way to relax. Poetry cuts to the quick. Riddles (jokes) lighten things up.

“Disappointingly credulous articles” is an understatement. I find it hard to believe that among all the publications there is no one who is aware of how ubiquitous EMR is in contemporary life, and thus how OBVIOUSLY the parents have locked onto denial.

Alas, it sounds like the parents began this while Jenny was still alive. ‘No, our daughter can’t be suffering from depression. It can’t be a mental health problem. It has to be something external making her physiologically ill. It must be the WiFi!’ I doubt Jenny believed this herself. If she had suggested it to her parents first, she was doing her best to ask for help via a dodge around something she didn’t want to admit, and knew they didn’t want to hear. I fear though that the parents came up with this explanation, and to any extent Jenny expressed it, she was just going along with their lead. Perhaps it served as the only code within which she could talk to them about how she felt.

Anyway, for me the question is, ‘why would any journalist write the story this way, highlighting the WiFi claim’? If they don’t know it’s bogus, you think they’d at least ask as minimum journalistic responsibility. We could imagine a reporter not wanting to make things worse for the suffering parents by refuting their claims in public. But they achieve that by keeping the WiFi out of the head and the lead, or just not airing the story. But they did the opposite. The WiFi angle was the man-bites-dog element that made this ‘newsie’ – which is to say, would pull clicks – and that why they gave the story any play at all, and didn’t work to counter the claims.

A schoolgirl was found dead in woodland after suffering an allergic reaction to her school’s WiFi that made her life a misery, an inquest heard.

… is just the worst kind of ghoulish sensationalism, exploiting a tragic death for hot, ‘sexy’ copy, and avoiding any counter-angle of truth that would kill the buzz. The news-folk know this is BS. They know they’re enabling other people to dodge dealing with their loved-ones’ or their own mental health problems by latching onto any damn bit of deflecting nonsense whatsoever. They know the next ‘hot lead’ could be ‘Schoolgirl found with slit wrist after suffering from psychokinetic connection with Sasquatch’, and they’ll print that, too, with more column inches and a head in a bigger point-size. The Jenny Fry stories would be woo if the journalists actually thought WiFi could be involved. They don’t. This isn’t woo. It’s just utter moral bankruptcy.

A schoolgirl was found dead in woodland after suffering an allergic reaction to her school’s WiFi that made her life a misery, an inquest heard.

Yah, extra-sensitive types don’t get sick just for no reason at all. Something or other usually drives them over the edge.

Anyway, for me the question is, ‘why would any journalist write the story this way, highlighting the WiFi claim’?

No journalist was involved, just a professional ghoul at the Daily Mail.

Yes, but several other major UK newspapers, including The Independent, covered the story in pretty much the same way. The Daily Fail’s reputation is well known, but it was far from the only culprit here.

One of the first questions I ask “troubled teens”, (when they actually come in for assessment) is how are things going at school, how are things at home, do they have many friends etc. Poor grades, withdrawing from activities, social isolation, bullying…all of these are potential warning signs of depression. Depression, as Orac alluded, can often present with vague random physical symptoms, not just “feeling sad”.

This young girl was clearly depressed, and unfortunately her parents turned to Dr Google for answers to what was going on, and not to a actual medical practitioner.

Something or other usually drives them over the edge.”

This nonsense, and other nonsenses, blur very real problems that will continue to not be addressed properly.

Totally agree. There are biological diseases yet to be identified which cause depressive symptoms. I am thinking of things like fibromyalgia and ME/cfs and the work that still needs to be done. But I also find the assignment of mental illness to an individual is another way not to address an issue outside of the person whether it’s intentional or not.

I had an acquaintance who blamed someone with unencrypted WiFi in his apartment complex for his headaches. When the unencrypted network disappeared his headaches went away. Somehow, the other residents who had encrypted WiFi were OK…

This may sound like obvious BS, but the guy has enough other quirky beliefs that I’m relatively certain he believed this.

Music is always good.

JP – right on!

There was a psychiatrist online who was big into music therapy. We used to trade links to YouTube songs. It’s funny that I would send him uplifting music and he would send me somewhat dark songs. I don’t know what that means but I found it interesting.

But, yeah, no depressing music for me anymore. Or movies. Give me black Southern rock/gospel music for inspiration and comedies or movies where good wins in the end. Life is tough enough and these things give me a break from it.

@JP: I don’t think you’re crazy at all – I’ve experienced the same phenomenon, and from what I’ve read, so have plenty of other people. If you think about it, what people call “stimming,” (and everyone does it to some extent or another), is basically a way of managing overwhelming external stimulation by creating a stimulation that you can control. (P.S. I also thought “journaling” was bullsh!t until I tried it 🙂 g

@ Todd: I couldn’t agree more. In fact, given the strong anti-psychiatry slant that runs through a lot of alt-med woo, I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason this poor girl was never treated for depression is because her mom picked up anti-psych ideas from the same place she seems to have picked up the idea of being “allergic” to EMF

EM sensitivity, in and of itself, assuming it is even a thing, causing suicide is highly, profoundly, unlikely.

More likely is that an alienated, depressed, girl, seeking to differentiate herself, latched onto EM sensitivity as a way of being special. Some go goth, others starve themselves, but most seem to be seeking identity, recognition, and affirmation. I don’t mean to trivialize this or to be trite, every case is different and every case is serious. Serious enough to be a matter of life and death.

Generally what is needed is for the family, friends, and community to come together around the individual to support them and find treatments that work. This death represents a failure of society to deal with individual infirmities.

But, yeah, no depressing music for me anymore. Or movies. Give me black Southern rock/gospel music for inspiration and comedies or movies where good wins in the end. Life is tough enough and these things give me a break from it.

Funnily enough, I am actually listening to Elliott Smith’s self-titled album at the morning; always loved that record. Sometimes it’s good to cry things out a little.

^at the moment. Though my typos seem to be feeling their own oats at the moment, so feel free to interpret at will.

Denice Walter@2:

Like parents who attribute ASDs to vaccines, Jenny’s parents apparently felt the need to disregard her psychological issues and instead focus upon wifi.

They fµcked up. Or at least they believe they did (suicidal depressives are sneaky fµckers, and very good at hiding the true extent of their malfunction). Much easier to cast around in their grief and rage and sorrow for something else to blame but themselves. I hope that once they come to terms with their loss, they can find a more reasoned perspective and blame neither wifi nor themselves for their daughter’s death, and maybe some day even find a way to bring some good out of it.

As for the “electrosmog” kooks and fraudsters that will doubtless try to glom onto this tragedy for their own glorification and profit, feel free to send them round my way and I’ll be happy to crack their heads for them as personal therapy for myself.

In fact, given the strong anti-psychiatry slant that runs through a lot of alt-med woo, I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason this poor girl was never treated for depression is because her mom picked up anti-psych ideas from the same place she seems to have picked up the idea of being “allergic” to EMF

Given the way that the local town newspaper covered Jenny’s funeral, not even mentioning the cause of death and merely saying that she had been “found” in the woods, I can’t help but wonder if the stigma attached to depression was what caused the parents’ seeming denial. The Chadlington website lists its population as being “at least 828” with 350 households, which makes it a pretty small town:

Chadlington looks like the very picture of the rural English countryside. It could well be that in such a rural, small town population there is a stronger stigma over mental illness than one might find in larger cities.


Anyway, for me the question is, ‘why would any journalist write the story this way, highlighting the WiFi claim’?

Because “Man Bites Dog” sells. Our media is disgustingly corrupt, but no more so than the market it serves (us).

It could well be that in such a rural, small town population there is a stronger stigma over mental illness than one might find in larger cities.


Re: the “depressing” music topic:

When I was in that situation, I found that epicurean activities really helped. Music, food, incense, whatever. It didn’t matter if the music was “depressing” or “uplifting,” what mattered was that it engaged me in some way.

But this is important to note- I was undiagnosed and (thus obviously) untreated. It is quite possible, and maybe likely, that being able to engage with sensory inputs like this was an early sign that things were improving, as opposed to helpful in themselves. I’m not a mental health professional.

So I guess what I’m really saying (besides that you’re not alone) is that you should really hang on to things that make you feel something, no matter if they’re to anyone else’s taste, because that’s a sh*t-ton better than not feeling. And if you’re not yet in a place where you can do that, may you get there soon. The fact that “music is good” for you is extremely good news.

Since then, my taste in music is irrevocably altered and deeply eclectic. To me, music that doesn’t speak to me and engage me in a certain way isn’t just boring, it’s (well, was) life-threatening. So keep on enjoying that music. And maybe look into getting some wireless speakers as your own personal extended middle finger to the woo-prone out there!

I’m just gonna leave this here.

Don’t forget Loudon Wainwright III. (“A Live One” is also a particular favorite of mine, but it was the first one that I bought. I can scarcely remember the days back when I used to pick up albums at random – that’s how I wound up with “A Scandal in Bohemia,” as well. And “Hot August Night.”)

What I find disturbing is that though her very troubling symptoms are mentioned what isn’t mentioned is that her parents every sought help for them. It states that a doctor wasn’t consulted. So my question for them is why? If your child is suffering headaches, fatigue, ‘bladder problems’, since when don’t you take them to the doctor? Plus this is the UK with universal healthcare so cost isn’t even the issue. If she had been evaluated by a doctor presumably they could have helped her. Perhaps she did have some underlying illness that could be explained or treated. Or even once ruling out biology I presume doctors know when to refer to a mental health practitioner. That is the real failure that her parents apparently let her suffer along while they are trying to get Wi-Fi out of the school instead of getting her the medical or psychological help she clearly needed.

Time to start circulating a counter-story that WiFi causes feelings of euphoria. No drugs required. At least that’s how I feel when I enter a coffee shop, waiting room or whatever and I detect WiFi (that is, my phone does the detecting). This is truly a great mystery since I have unlimited data on my mobile phone plan.

Well, this story depresses me so I’d best go and irradiate myself for a while. Hug a router to show how much you appreciate it.

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.

What works for me is the Grateful Dead (hey, I’m an old guy) and the blues. In the words of Joe Bonamassa, “…we listen to sad music so we can experience deep sadness and then banish such feelings from our soul.”

Of course, what works for you (any of you) is what works for you, and I’d never tell anyone they are listening to music wrong (except my nephew, and he knows it’s all in fun).

@ has:

It’s a way of saving face because they believe mental illness is a stigma or a sign of weakness, bad genes or whatever:

It’s saying that
” There’s nothing wrong with MY child- they were perfect” until outside forces intervened – vaccines, wifi, drugs- whatever the culprit is. It’s not MY child.

BUT those who believe this will attack the wrong causes while the person so afflicted continues to suffer or in this case, dies.
It’s a denial of mental illness which is harmful to the person who has the illness.

AND correct- probably worse in small towns.

I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason this poor girl was never treated for depression is because her mom picked up anti-psych ideas from the same place she seems to have picked up the idea of being “allergic” to EMF


One of the articles quotes Mom stating:

Jenny was getting ill and so was I. I did some research and found how dangerous WiFi could be so I had it taken out of the house

The same article was considerate enough to provide links to some of the sites the Mom might have “researched”, this being one:

I wouldn’t be surprised if some anti-wireless commenters showed up to provide their perspective on the issue, hopefully without invoking the spectre of “Big Wireless” to support their view.

Whether or not “electrohypersensitivity”, if it exists, played any part in this poor girl’s death is not something I have the expertise to discuss.

I do know though that many other factors may have been at play,

However, some of these factors may be beyond society’s ability, or will, to address … or at any rate, would require somewhat more complex fixes than “unplugging the wireless”.

AND correct- probably worse in small towns.

Well, not to mention an almost total lack of mental health services. I’m talking one or two shrinks serving an entire rural county (at the actual county clinic.) There are some real perks to living in the country, but in a lot of ways, the people who’ve held out and kept living there are rather… underprivileged.

If “bladder problems” translated to incontinence, I can well imagine that alone being very troubling for her, and a motivation to deliberately invent any unrelated complaint, plausible or not, to avoid school or to justify carefully position herself in classrooms. A bright kid of her age might even have done some web surfing and deliberately chosen EHS as something that she could claim as a problem that would be difficult for teachers or parents to refute.

People in UK – could she have sought medical treatment without parental consent? Of course in a small community, even that would have probably been difficult for her if she wanted to keep her parents from knowing.

As a biomedical electronics engineer, I personally investigated some cases where people suspected they were suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. And indeed, I can testify that these people are often quite miserable due to their perceived ‘condition’. One woman was considering moving a remote place in the woods for no other reason than ‘the constant cell phone and Wifi radiation that is making my life hell’. But before taking any such drastic measures, she consulted me, and asked if I knew of any way to ‘block radiation’.
I explained that no, there is no practical way to block or divert these RF fields away from her (apart from donning a Faraday suit — Google will show you what it is), but that I was willing to help her in another way: to find out if her symptoms were actually caused by RF fields. At first, she balked at the fact that I didn’t take her seriously, but I explained that I took her symptoms very seriously, and that I just had doubts about the cause. Then I explained that if we managed to establish that, yes, she was sensitive to those very weak electromagnetic fields, we would quickly become world famous. And who knows, maybe I could even get my hands on a Nobel prize for discovering something thought physically impossible up until now! This made her laugh, and the ice thus broken, we agreed that I should make a house call to investigate her symptoms, and to see if these would in any way correlate with RF fields in the vicinity.
The whole test setup was crude but effective: I brought a wide-spectrum RF power detector which showed the strength of any local RF fields between 50MHz and 5GHz by means of a simple LED bar. After demonstrating that yes, it picked up cell phone and Wifi signals, and even registered a small bit of emission from the kitchen radio, I handed her husband this device, and gave both a few previously prepared forms: every 10 minutes, she would rate her symptoms on a scale between 1 and 10, and her husband would jot down the highest RF reading during that time interval, both taking care not to observe each other’s readings and writings.
The whole experiment was carried out in a relaxed atmosphere. I did some explaining about RF fields, and asked about all the problems she was having; then we basically chatted away the rest of the afternoon, at one time leaving the house for a walk in a park (a place she told me beforehand she experienced less symptoms) and several places she had characterized as ‘sheer hell’. At regular intervals, I reminded both to jot down their notes, trying to keep in between the two.
And after 5 hours (and a pleasant meal — no microwave!), we decided to call it a day, and compare notes.

And alas, no Nobel prize for me — but hey, you can’t have it all. Contrary to me, the woman was actually very surprised to see that there was no correlation at all between the readings her husband had registered and her own symptoms — but as she was still uncertain, I offered that she could keep the RF detector (a cheap, simple device based on an LT5534 chip) for a while longer, and switch it on when she was experiencing symptoms, to check if there was any RF field or not.
After another week, she was ready to accept the fact that her symptoms were not caused by actual RF fields — but unfortunately, the symptoms didn’t go away, and still correlated with the moments that she thought she was exposed to RF fields. Even seeing the RF detector registering nothing at those moments helped only a little.

I think there is a strong nocebo effect here, and I’m still at a loss how to deal with it properly. I’m pretty convinced that these people create their own symptoms (or exacerbate existing, much smaller symptoms) when they believe they’re being exposed to their trigger of choice — i.e. RF fields. Then again, maybe this work of Ted Kaptchuk with respect to placebos may offer some perspective… But at least the people I investigated know that the real cause of their trouble is probably in their own head, and that they’re not really exposed to anything harmful. Sure, it’s only cold comfort, especially as they’re not really feeling any better — but then again, I’m not a psychiatrist, or even a doctor.

I’ve had one experience where I could tell, without any device, that there was a *lot* of electromagnetic energy around me.

I could hear a constant background hum, with occasional crackles.
I could smell the ozone.
And I could see the gigantic transmission tower I was standing under, at the convergence of two sets of huge power lines on their way to Los Angeles. They ain’t subtle.

Did it make me sick? No, it was the 105 F heat combined with chasing after lizards in the desert that made me sick.

My point is, by the time you can observe EM energy (electricity, magnetism) unassisted, it is super obvious.

Alas, it sounds like the parents began this while Jenny was still alive. ‘No, our daughter can’t be suffering from depression. It can’t be a mental health problem. It has to be something external making her physiologically ill. It must be the WiFi!’

We’ve seen this from many of the anti-vax parents, and it shows up here as well. Our special snowflake is absolutely perfect, and if not, there must be some external cause, whether it’s vaccines or wi-fi.

You see a lot of this kind of narcissism in outer ring suburbia in the US. The UK generally doesn’t do US-style exurbia, so that kind of parent tends to end up in places like Chadlington. Which can lead to the same sort of isolation and alienation for teenagers that you see in US suburbia. Other than a post office and maybe a general store (which is more than you find in such places in the US), there isn’t much of anything a teenager can safely get to without the help of her parents or other adults. At least there are woods and fields surrounding the village, but as Miss Marple regularly reminds us, life in an English village can be quite wicked. The pressure to conform can be insurmountable. And depression issues are frequently worse, because there is no help close at hand–you will lose face by merely seeking out such help, because in a village that size, literally everybody knows who you are.


Poor grades, withdrawing from activities, social isolation, bullying…all of these are potential warning signs of depression.

I thought the same thing. Actually a lot of the story reminded me of my time in high school. In particular this bit:

They told today how she would often hide herself in empty classrooms

I’m amazed that apparently everyone involved ignored such a blatant sign of serious psych (to say nothing of how suicidal ideation didn’t prompt an immediate intervention of some kind).
after suffering an allergic reaction to her school’s WiFi that made her life a misery
might more accurately read: after suffering at school made her life a misery.

On a more positive note, JP you sound a hundred times better than recently. I hope you are feeling better too.

In fact, given the strong anti-psychiatry slant that runs through a lot of alt-med woo,

Nonsense. Altmed practitioners treat the WHOLE PERSON, whereas those pesky allopaths only look for pathogens.

Altmed practitioners treat the WHOLE PERSON

Yep, they sure do. Almost any condition is treated with foot massages, herbal enemas, ‘energy healing’ over the torso craniosacral manipulation, palm reading, smelly stuff (a.k.a. aroma therapy), and some other procedures involving any body parts I missed . If that isn’t the “whole person”, then I don’t know what is. Amazingly, these interventions generally have their most profound effect in a location some small distance away from the body, in that organic, leathery structure called “the wallet”. I guess the lighter load there feels quite liberating for the person involved. The whole person.

All this wifi sensitivity nonsense is about to me swamped by an even bigger wave of woo and blame-claiming.
There was a recent story in Newsday (the Long Island newspaper) about public hearings for a proposed solar farm. One of the public commenters was worried about “radiation” from the panels.
A quick web search of the keywords “solar”, “panels”, and “radiation” came up with numerous hits spreading crap about electromagnetic radiation from the panels being harmful, with the site names reading like a roundup of the usual suspects. The only hit in the first two pages worth reading is this one:
I highly recommend it; it makes some very good points.

If I found correlation between exposure to electronic equipment and health-related symptoms I would have a number of somewhat plausible hypotheses. Just off the top of my head: first, chemical – outgassing plastics, maybe solders release vapours of rare earth metals after getting hot, or maybe it’s just contamination – the truck it was transported out of factory was previously used to transport pesticides and nobody thought to wash it… Then biological – maybe it’s some parasite or bacteria that hiked a trip from China… Then, physical – maybe it’s something about high-frequency flickering of LEDs, or maybe some faulty capacitors hum just below hearing range. Actual EMF would be way down the list of potential causes.

Yet, with those hypersensitivity folks it’s always about EMF radiation – with emphasis on ‘radiation’ – and pretty much never any alternative hypothesis. This much points towards psychological explanations rather than physical.

Headaches + bladder problems could be migraine leading (understandably) to depression.

Weariness and lethargy go with that too. Also anxiety and mood swings.

Doesn’t mean that’s what it was. But it’s a possibility.

“Amazingly, these interventions generally have their most profound effect in a location some small distance away from the body, in that organic, leathery structure called “the wallet”. “


Surely there must be a wallet-based alt med homunculus, with all of the various body structures mapped to different parts of the wallet…

PZ has posted a couple of things, fairly recently, that were amusing mis-takes on electromagnetic fields and RF.

One was about some character’s blog post or web site where he talked about wanting to avoid alternating current because something, something. He thought the Prius was OK because it ran on DC. Well, yes, the battery is DC but you can’t make something go around without modulating magnetic fields one way or another. The Prius motor uses a permanent magnet armature with a 3-phase stator that is essentially driven with AC derived from the DC supply. Oops!

In another post, PZ mentioned hearing some people talking about the hazards of radiation from cell phones, and how it is worst when you have 5-bar signal strength. Well, nope, again. Celll phones adjust transmit power to the lowest level necessary for reliable coms with the tower. If you have five bars, it indicates that you are getting a strong signal from the tower, which almost always means the tower can “hear” you with low transmitted power from your end. The max. power from the phone is delivered when it can’t communicate with a tower at all and is yelling “can you hear me, tower?’ – no bars.

“EMF” in electronics means exactly one thing – electromotive force. Not electromagnetic field or electromagnetic frequencies. Every time I see EMF used for either of these things, I immediately suspect quackery. Unfortunately, the misuse has made it into papers published by people who should know better.

I wonder what happens to the people who think they are hypersensitive to magnetic fields if they require magnetic resonance imaging.

What I don’t understand is why her parents went directly to the idea of EHS without taking her to her GP first to see if she had some kind of infection, or if the GP could help with some of the symptoms. “My child can’t possibly be depressed” is common, but “my child is immune to all viruses”?

Re not reporting the method of this girls death – this is the norm in Australia and it has to do with trying to prevent copycat suicides (especially among teenagers/young adults) rather than stigma around mental illness. In fact it is quite easy to tell from news reports if a death was suicide – there is always a link to BeyondBlue, and a suggestion to call them if the story raised any troubling issues for you.

Did she have the same symptoms when using a cell phone? They produce a far higher EMR exposure than does wi-fi.
A common microwave oven, after some dirt has accumulated around the door, leaks a small but measurable amount of EMR in the same range as typical wi-fi, and often interferes with it.
… and so on.
As Orac points out, her wifi sensitivity was almost certainly imaginary.

Perhaps there is someone, somewhere on earth with an unusual sensitivity to very modest levels of microwave range emf (though I don’t understand how that would be possible) but their body could not possibly be sensitive to the smaller amount from a wifi antenna twenty feet away which being untroubled by a cell phone held to one’s head.

“Bladder problems”? A schizophrenic in our family “choose” to emphasize her “distress” during a family crisis (parent with cancer attempting to recover at home) by pissing themselves repeatedly, accompanied by tantrums (never done before or after) at the height of the crisis.

This poor girl had major mental problems.

Doug #41

Yes, at her age she could have sought help herself, up to referral to child and adolescent mental health (although I don’t know how badly cut such services in Oxon have been – they have been elsewhere, including where I worked).

OK, to put on my old professional hat (senior nurse in CAMHS, specialising in OD assessment and thus having spent more time than most dealing with suicidal teenagers and the literature): the more I see of this one, the more I see depressive symptoms which have gone untreated, the more I see significant risk factors for suicide, the more I see some, errrrr, interesting family dynamics, and the more I see a coroner who has recorded the wrong verdict (this happens too frequently around apparent suicide over here – still).

As noted by several folk, the role of stigma in small communities cannot be under-estimated. The role of our useless media in reporting MH issues cannot be under-estimated. And neither can parents who won’t see MH problems…I have lots of stories about that…

@ Fiona
It’s the same here. If someone commites suicide, it mostly isn’t mentioned, unless it’s someone well-known, or there are questions wether it’s suicide or not. Currently there is the case of a girl, who died under a train and the parents didn’t accept her committing suicide. It looks like she was drugged.
Some years ago there was a boy who hanged himself, which also brought some uproar. Parents didn’t believe he committed suicide and all kinds of complot-theories came out of the woods.

As far as I know two people have jumped of he building where I live, which was never mentioned in the media. One person I knew, the other, more recently still is unknown. I only heard the rumor it was my dad, who is still alive and well.

Poor girl.
When I was at secondary school, my best friend was suffering from what we now know was depression. She had all those symptoms like headaches, dizziness, fainting, etc. But since as a kid she had an anaphylactic shock after getting a dose of penicillin, she was diagnosed only for purely physical conditions, including Holter monitor, heart ultrasound, etc. Some abnormalities were found, everyone was satisfied, case closed. And the fact that she had problems at school, both with her classmates (there were four of us vs. rest of the class, long story) and some teachers and subjects – it’s part of growing up, innit? (BTW, if not for her, her kindness and friendship, I might’ve gone over the edge myself.)

Finally she was diagnosed several years later, undergone therapy and when I met her 10 years after our graduation, at last she seemed OK and enjoying her life.


I was wishing there was an emoticon for hugs, or some way to represent it in ASCII, but then I decided that was kind of chintzy anyway. So: hugs.

OT but seriously minions, is Dan Olmsted-on-Saturday EVER truly OT RI? ‘Fraid not.

( @ AoA) A few choice quotes:
“One thing that does no one good is to confabulate conspiracies out of heartbreak…
” We have enough real conspiracies on our hands that we ought to make an extra effort to avoid ones that lack good evidence”
AND in the comments:
” I try to apply occam’s razor (sic)”
he also mentions a recent guest of Orac’s, James Lyon-Weller, his fabulous article and that progressives’ position on vaccines- with few exceptions- is SBM.

In other news, AoA have raised 5000 USD which will be matched by someone with money.

Because they now have charity status, we’ll be able to see exactly where the money goes.

So, reading between the lines, the child’s mother brainwashed her daughter to believe that she should fear EM radiation with the result that the child ended up dead.

Fiona is right in her supposition that the media here avoid using the word suicde because of the high risk of copycats.I can’t rememer the name, but it’s part of some code of practice.

@JP #29 Yay, my kind of music! Thanks.

Um, I don’t know where I was during the ’90s but I was not aware of Elliott Smith’s music. I just sampled some of the songs on his self titled album (the lady I assist has come down with shingles and that keeps one busy), yet I was able to listen to one entire song I really like, Coming Up Roses.
I didn’t find it depressing but rather contemplative.

@Johnny #36,

It wasn’t my intent to prescribe any type of music if that is what my first comment sounded like*. I was telling what works for me. In my case, there are certain times and places for the varied types of music, and I have no doubt JP will figure out her own best mixology.

*I blame my poor communication skills along with all my other issues on the nuclear power plant within 12 miles of my childhood home.

A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.

Delusion, hallucination, paranoid/persecution ideation.

This is a case of schizophrenia. Not typical of depression.

She should be treated by psychiatrist for psychosis.

Just to add to the comments about the newspaper coverage of this poor kid’s death, yes, the Press Complaints Commission has guidelines about reporting suicide, as does the NUJ.

I’d also imagine that because an inquest probably hadn’t been held before the funeral where a cause of death would be determined the local paper would have avoided saying she’d taken her own life, even if that were clear. It’s not squeamishness about mental health, it’s responsible reporting.

So let’s see. She was found hanging from a tree, and the press won’t report that she was found hanging from a tree? I must say, from an American perspective I find this very odd.

I must say, from an American perspective I find this very odd.

I’ve felt the same way about some of SAVN’s victories, as I recall.

In America they don’t generally report how someone ends their life. But you can be pretty sure that “Died suddenly”, especially for the young, means it was by suicide.


So let’s see. She was found hanging from a tree, and the press won’t report that she was found hanging from a tree? I must say, from an American perspective I find this very odd.

It seems odd to me from a UK perspective too, but it is for good reasons- bear in mind how vile the UK tabloids can be. UK press reporting policies were changed after a spate of copycat suicides in South Wales in 2007-10 (a total of 79 people died, though where all were connected isn’t clear) when some teenaged suicides were reported in a somewhat lurid way in the UK press. In 202 the police asked the press to stop reporting the suicides, and the PCC code of practice was changed to reflect this.

Thanks, JP
I managed to get over most of my childhood and teen traumas, but it required a lot of work, time – as well as some medication and a group of nerdy friends.


Hooraaaay! Hey, you live in Poland, right? Mind if I ask approximately where at? (As in which city?)

Migraines can come with some serious fatigue and confusion. They also often have certain triggers that can include stress or even certain smells. Also migraines are a common symptom of autonomic nervous system disorders, as is depression and bladder problems.

Any child suffering from severe headaches and confusion should be assessed by a doctor. Not taking her to a doctor is serious parental neglect.

@NaT #70

I took your post (and the others) to exactly what you said, and how I hoped mine was received – this is what works for me. I’m sorry that I wasn’t clear.

Mankind has been making music for as long as we’ve been human, and maybe even before that (as shown in this documentary ), so it makes sense that music should have an effect on us.

@Mnemosyne #82

If the names and places in the articles you and our host link to, both from the Daily Mail, were redacted, I doubt that most people would realize that they are the same story. This is a good example of why I try to get news from several sources, and in as many different media as I can. But to have the same outlet write two different stories on the same event is a bit unusual.

@Dangerous Bacon

Do we know for sure that she never had a Gardasil shot?

I prefer to take the word of those who take the word of the parents rather than casting a wide net for alternative theories.

Note: So far as I can tell, nets have not been implicated in this tragic event.

Thanks Kate and Krebiozen.

Orac on the subject of how vile UK tabloids are, I’d reallly rather not click on links to the Daily Mail, as the ad’s are paid for according to how many clicks a page gets. Would it be possible to say in the link title if it’s going to take us to that odious rag?

I’m not surprised the manner of death was not reported more widely. Obituaries often omit the cause of death even when it is something without any social stigma. But that aside, I vividly remember the funeral of a classmate who committed suicide. She was Catholic, which of course aggravated the situation, but she was essentially being buried under the fiction that it was an accident. (It wasn’t. There was really no doubt whatsoever in her case.)

The really sad thing is that by all outward appearances, she seemed to be quite happy. Nobody had a clue that she was suicidal. We have no way of knowing how long she had suffered with depression before deciding to end it. Her parents weren’t neglectful or anything; if she had suffered a long time with depression, she had succeeded in hiding it. Which itself is probably not unusual; depressed people are often very good at hiding it.


I think we all took your suggestions as ‘what works for you’, but it seemed you categorized some music as ‘depressing’ in an objective way. Some stuff that others find soothing makes me grind my teeth, and stuff I rock out with can bum other people out. ‘Happy ending’ movies tend to make me more depressed, while dark comedy lifts me up.

To the extent that some tastes are more widely held than others, I’d say gospel-inspired-secular music (or is that sexular?) is a good general suggestion as it puts a lot of folks into a positive state of mind: James Brown, Little Richard, Wynonie Harris…

I think the thing with music is that when you ‘feel’ it, whatever it is, you feel more human, tune into the emotionally good things humans can do (like create art), feel more ‘alive’ and thus have more motive to stay that way. E.g. Sinatra’s ‘Wee Small Hours’ and ‘Only the Lonely’ are full of sad songs, but they’re just so damn beautiful. And, on the other end of the scale, with irony and a great riff, this song (1:54) rocks me into a good mood every time:

(unconventional vocal style warning)

RE reporting on cause of death in Australia. I was working as a School Psychologist in the early 1990s when we had a spate of triggered suicide attempts following three teemagers jumping off the same freeway overpass over the period of two weeks. The overpass had guards at one point to escort users until a wire shield could be erected. The repeated front page newspaper reporting of the children’s funerals and suicide attempts was a nightmare to deal with creating a focus point for teenagers who had made the decision to attempt suicide but were now just waiting for a “sign”. The regulations around reporting of suicide and funderals of people who completed suicide changed as a result. They were very difficult months and I still think about the times whenever I drive under the covered overpass.

In my town we had three teenagers jump off the same bridge within two months also. It wasn’t in the newspapers but anyone could hear about it because it’s a small community. I dunno, maybe if it had been reported in the paper things might have been even worse.

How many times have I heard “correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation”? IE depression causes person to feel sick and makes her want to kill herself. Just maybe it’s the other way around. “sickness causes depression” CFS/ME. Is devastating, so much so I don’t like to mention the symptoms cause I’ll get eye rolls and crap thrown back at me like “oh there’s robert and he’s all about his illness cfs” And I can speak from experience the type of abuse you get from people who think anything but the fact that you are indeed sick can give you a psychological problem. So you have that on your plate also. It’s enough to throw anyone over the edge. The other thing I don’t understand about how “skeptics” who deny cfs or promote the “it must be in their head” don’t see the parallels to this and to antivaxers and what they are in denial about.

@Johnny #86 No issues. I had a friend that I’ve since lost track of who was a Deadhead. Followed them almost everywhere one year…by hitchhiking. Whoa.


Yeah, I made an objective observation of depressing vs uplifting but kept in mind it is always a subjective thing. Think Amazing Grace. The lyrics are very hopeful to some but it can be depressing to others because they may associate it with funerals and loss.

I almost went into suggestion territory in that comment but stopped. I figured others can chose to do what they wish with the idea of some music bringing you down and some the opposite…and when to listen to either.

But just for kicks, I will describe what it means to me. I think the most depressing song have ever heard is Johnny Cash’s remake of Hurt.

The most uplifting for me the past few years has been He Reigns by the Newsboys (also a favorite of the psychiatrist but not for religious reasons; he’s a Jewish atheist). If Christian lyrics offend you, then it would be Friday I’m in Love by The Cure.

Ok, all very mainstream. I don’t have much exposure to indie music, and if I’m honest, I’ll admit I don’t understand much of what I do hear of it. I listened to your tune linked to above. I like the sound but it is a bit too much like “speed metal” to me. My brain can’t keep up with it.

I also appreciate dark comedies which is why I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s work. But he’s as dark as I’ll go. Any creepy, gory flicks except for the zombie genre (goes with the territory there) and any “glorify the violent criminal” movies are off limits for me.

“Idiopathic EHS” and the “nocebo effect” are conjectures. Confirmation of EHS exists within research from 1932 to the present; to deny this is to take a pseudoscientific position. This is how to test for EHS:

“Reliable disease biomarkers characterizing and identifying electrohypersensitivity…”

Dr. Karl Hecht (Emeritus Professor of Experimental and Clinical Physiopathology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the International Academy of Astronautics, etc.) would like you to read this:

If you insist no evidence supports the existence of non-thermal biological effects of EMF and/or EHS, please begin by explaining your objection to each of the 1800 studies included in the recent Bioinitiative report, as well as each of the 700 papers on therapeutic effects of non-thermal EMF referred to by Dr. Martin Pall, Prof. Emeritus, Washington State U.

“This is how to test for EHS”.

Actually, the linked abstract suggests an excellent way NOT to test for this alleged disorder. Apparently these people did assays in a series of “self-reported” cases (there’s no indication they checked to see if there was actual exposure to EMF or did a comprehensive workup to evaluate what prior medical conditions might have existed). I don’t see that control groups reporting no symptoms were tested. What we get is a laundry list of purported abnormalities without any coherent explanation as to how they might all fit together (for example, assuming “hypoperfusion” of an area of the brain signifies there is inflammation there strikes me as rather careless).

Based on historical precedent, such findings might be enough to convince an Italian court…

If you insist no evidence supports the existence of non-thermal biological effects of EMF and/or EHS, please begin by explaining your objection to each of the 1800 studies included in the recent Bioinitiative report, as well as each of the 700 papers on therapeutic effects of non-thermal EMF referred to by Dr. Martin Pall, Prof. Emeritus, Washington State U.

Not how it works.

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