Psychological Disorders Named After Cities

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Podcast Transcript

Psychologists have identified hundreds of different psychological disorders and conditions. 

Some of them are rather common conditions that affect large segments of the population at one time or another. Others are quite rare and only come up in certain circumstances, or even in certain places. 

Within that, there is a rare subset of psychological conditions that only tend to appear in certain cities, or were named after cities where first appeared. 

Learn more about psychological syndromes that are named after cities on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

This episode is going to be something a bit different. 

I want to focus on what is actually a rather small category of psychological conditions. These legitimate psychological disorders have been identified by psychologists, and academic papers have been written about them.

As a caveat, I should note that not all professionals agree that the things I’m about to cover are actual clinical disorders.

These conditions are fascinating, and they have been documented, but given the circumstances under which they occur, they have only affected a small number of people. 

Moreover, all of the psychological conditions I’ll be covering in this episode have one thing in common….they were named after cities. 

So, I might as well start with the one city syndrome that most of you have probably heard of, Stockholm Syndrome. 

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response in which hostages or victims of kidnapping develop a bond, sympathy, or even affection towards their captors. This phenomenon can occur over a period of time when the victims start to feel a sense of empathy and positive feelings towards their abductors despite the danger or threat they are under.

Stockholm syndrome was coined from a 1973 bank robbery that took place in Stockholm, Sweden. The bank robber was a convict on parole named Jan-Erik Olsson. He went into a bank called Kreditbanken and wound up taking four people hostage. 

The most notable aspect of the bank robbery was that it was the first time such an event had been broadcast live on TV in Sweden. 

The hostage situation went on for six days, and after the police finally entered the bank and ended the standoff, something remarkable happened. 

The freed hostages refused to testify against Olsson. Moreover, they began to raise money for his defense. 

A Swedish criminologist named Nils Bejerot was asked by the police to analyze the reaction of the hostages. He coined the term Stockholm Syndrome to describe the behavior of the hostages. 

Stockholm Syndrome came to even greater prominence the next year, in 1974, with the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. 

Patty Hearst was the granddaughter of the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, one of the richest men in the world. 

She was kidnapped by a terrorist group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army on February 4, 1974.

On April 3, just two months after her abduction, she released an audio tape indicating that she had changed her name and had joined the Symbionese Liberation Army. Just two weeks later, she was seen on surveillance footage robbing a bank holding a semi-automatic rifle. 

In September 1975, she was captured, and in court, her attorneys argued that she had been brainwashed, or as later psychologists have argued, she was the most famous case of Stockholm Syndrome. 

Stockholm Syndrome is the best-known of the psychological disorders named after cities, but it is far from the only one. In fact, it isn’t even the only one that deals with hostages and kidnapping. 

The opposite of Stockholm Syndrome is known as Lima Syndrome.

Lima Syndrome is a psychological condition in which abductors develop sympathy, compassion, or even affection for their hostages. This phenomenon can lead to the captors showing leniency or even letting the hostages go free.

This condition was named after an event that took place on December 17, 1996, when a terrorist group known as the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement took over 600 diplomats and guests hostage at the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru.

The standoff lasted for four months, and during that time, the hostage takers kept letting hostages go, most of whom were released in the first few days. 

By the end of the standoff, there was only a single hostage left. 

Lima Syndrome isn’t as well studied as Stockholm Syndrome. One of the reasons why the captors became fond of their captives was that most of the hostages were skilled at communication. 

Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome aren’t mutually exclusive. They can both happen at the same time when both the captor and the captive become friends. 

In 1986, a 19-year-old man named  Athar Hameed Khan was kidnapped in Uttar Pradesh, India. The group that kidnapped him were Dalits, members of the untouchable class, who were fighting to end the caste system.  Athar was targeted because he looked rich, but he was not. 

The kidnappers treated him well, allowing him to walk about the village. Likewise, Athar began to sympathize with his captor’s cause. Eventually, he was freed and given money to compensate him for his time. 

Athar, on his part, began to advocate for Dalit rights and got into politics. 

However, there is another syndrome that has been identified in dealing with hostages: London Syndrome. 

This gets its name from the 1981 siege of the Iranian Embassy. 26 people were held hostage, and one of them became extremely belligerent with his captors. 

When the hostage takers decided to kill one of the hostages to show that they were serious, they selected the one that was the guy who was really annoying and belligerent. 

While this condition was given a name, it is even less understood than Lima Syndrome. 

These syndromes were named after the cities where events took place. However, some conditions only occur in particular cities.  

Probably the best-known condition to manifest itself in a particular city is Jerusalem Syndrome. 

Jerusalem is a city that is important to three of the world’s great religions. 

Jerusalem Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon involving religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions, or other psychosis-like experiences triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. 

This condition affects a small number of visitors and pilgrims to the city, particularly those with pre-existing mental health conditions, but it can also manifest in individuals with no prior history of mental illness.

About 100 people per year are diagnosed with Jerusalem Syndrome. 

It can manifest in different ways. Some people believe they are messengers of God and begin preaching in the streets. Others believe they literally are biblical figures who have returned. One American man went to Jerusalem thinking he was Samson from the Old Testament and tried to move the Western Wall with his hands.

He was unsuccessful.

The Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are also popular figures who many believe they are. 

One of the most famous cases took place in 1969 with an Australian named Denis Michael Rohan. He arrived in Jerusalem, believed himself to be a messenger of God, and tried to burn down the Al-Asqa Mosque with kerosene. It was responsible for causing a major diplomatic incident. 

About 80% of people who suffer from Jerusalem syndrome have a history of mental illness, and the rest have never shown signs of illness in the past. Statistically, the most common victims of Jerusalem Syndrome are men in their 20s and 30s from North America. 

While Jerusalem Syndrome manifests most often in Jerusalem, it has also been recorded as happening in other important religious cities such as Mecca and Rome. 

Jerusalem isn’t the only city that can trigger extreme responses in people. 

Another city that regularly causes psychotic episodes is Paris. 

Paris Syndrome is a psychological disorder primarily affecting tourists visiting Paris, particularly those from Japan, but also some from China and South Korea.

It is characterized by a range of psychiatric symptoms, including acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution, and other manifestations of severe anxiety.

The term Paris Syndrome was coined by Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist who was working in France in the 1980s. 

So, what exactly is the connection between people from Japan and the city of Paris? Why does it primarily affect mostly Japanese people, and why in Paris?

Paris Syndrome is believed to be an extreme form of culture shock. Some people in Japan have an idealized view of Paris. They’ve seenmedia images showing Paris as a place of high culture where models can be found on every street corner. 

When they arrive in Paris, the reality doesn’t match their expectations. The city they dreamt of doesn’t exist. Instead, they find a modern, messy city with crowds and severe language barriers. 

Once people experience this, they can suffer from paranoia and anxiety. They may feel that everyone in Paris is out to get them. 

There are 1.1 million people from Japan who visit Paris every year, and the number who suffer from Paris Syndrome is exceedingly small. Only about 2 or 3 dozen people each year develop the symptoms, and of those, only a handful are hospitalized.

It isn’t a lot, but it’s pretty consistent every year, and it is enough of a problem that the Japanese Embassy has a special hotline for people who are having difficulty in Paris. 

The treatment is usually just to send people home as soon as possible.

Paris isn’t the only city that can bring about profound responses from visitors. 

Another condition documented in the early 19th century is Florence Syndrome, also known as Stendhal Syndrome. It was named after the French author Stendhal, who was a pen name for Marie-Henri Beyle.

Florence Syndrome is a psychosomatic condition characterized by intense emotional and physical reactions when an individual is exposed to art, particularly when the art is exceptionally beautiful or abundant.

Stendhal visited Florence in 1817 and experienced Florence Syndrome himself. He was particularly overcome when he visited the Basilica of San Croce, the burial site of Michaelangelo and Galleilo. 

He wrote of his experience: I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty .?.?. I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations .?.?. Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.

As with the other conditions, Florence Syndrome is quite rare, but there are constant, yet infrequent, cases of people fainting or being overcome while in the presence of great art. 

Florence is not the only city in Italy that has a psychological condition named after it. 

Venice Syndrome is a term used to describe the phenomenon where individuals travel to Venice with the express intention of committing suicide.

The association of Venice with themes of decay and beauty, as well as its depiction in literature and film, attracts individuals with a deep sense of despair.

The number of people diagnosed with Venice Syndrome is about 5 to 10 per year, and by far the largest group is from Germany. This is probably due to the the cultural impact of Thomas Mann’s novel “Death in Venice” and its subsequent film adaptation.

Venice isn’t the only city where this can happen. There are people who suffer similar suicidal thoughts when visiting San Francisco.

There are a few other psychological conditions named after cities, but the link isn’t quite so direct. 

Brooklyn Syndrome is characterized by aggressive attitudes toward visitors displayed by the inhabitants of Brooklyn. This term was first used during World War II by Navy psychiatrists who observed certain behavioral patterns among recruits from Brooklyn, initially interpreting these traits as psychopathological.

Detroit Syndrome is a term that refers to an age-related discriminatory psychological condition in which older employees feel and fear that they will be replaced by younger, more skilled workers. This phenomenon draws its name from the automotive industry, where new models always replace older models. 

These psychological disorders have very little in common other than the fact that they were named after cities, and they are all rather rare. Nonetheless, they are all interesting and give a glimpse into the human condition.