State Terrorism Masquerading as Psychogenic Illness

  • Robert W. BalohEmail author
  • Robert E. Bartholomew


Since the 1980s, reports of mass psychogenic illness have increasingly featured themes centering around state-sponsored terrorism. In each instance, longstanding political tensions led to the creation of a folk theory that a hostile foreign power was targeting minorities with poisonous substances as a form of ethnic cleansing. The symptoms of ‘Havana Syndrome’ closely parallel illness clusters that have been identified as mass psychogenic illness, after initially being diagnosed as an attack with chemical weapons by a hostile government. Despite initial confusion surrounding these diagnoses, a consensus has emerged within the medical community that they were psychogenic in origin. The involvement of specific ethnic groups is conspicuous as chemical agents cannot discriminate along ethnic lines. This social patterning of symptoms parallels the events in Cuba as only diplomatic staff and their families were affected.


Illness and social networks Terrorism scares Health scares Mass psychogenic illness Ethnic cleansing Mass sociogenic illness Collective unexplained symptoms Conversion disorder Anxiety Public health Contested diagnoses The politics of illness Social panic 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurology and Head and Neck SurgeryDavid Geffen School of Medicine at UCLALos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Psychological MedicineUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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