In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children fall into a state that resembles sleep for months and years at a time. In Le Roy, a town in upstate New York, teenage girls develop involuntary twitches and seizures that spread like a contagion. In the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, employees experience headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises during the night. These are only a few of more than two hundred officially recognized psychogenic syndromes—specific sets of symptoms that exist in a particular culture or environment—that affect people around the world.
In Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan—an award-winning British neurologist—investigates psychogenic disorders, traveling the world to visit communities suffering from these so-called mystery illnesses. From a derelict post-Soviet mining town in Kazakhstan to the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua to the heart of the Maria Mountains in Colombia, O’Sullivan records the remarkable stories of syndromes that have been related by communities of people from all walks of life. She presents these curious and often distressing case studies with compassion and humanity, persuasively arguing that psychological suffering demands much greater respect and discussion than it is currently being given.
In examining the complexity of psychogenic illness, O’Sullivan has written a book of both fascination and serious concern as these syndromes continue to proliferate around the globe.