City Syndromes: Can Certain Cities Trigger Mental Health Conditions?

City Syndromes
  • “City syndromes” involve psychological conditions induced by certain urban settings.
  • Paris syndrome and Stockholm syndrome are popular examples.

What Is City Syndrome?

Sometimes, certain forms of urbanity impose delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms of psychosis among its residents and visitors. Experts dub these short-lived ‘mental states’ as “city syndromes”.

While cities, in general, have been associated with a wide bevy of mental health conditions (such as anxiety, psychotic, mood, or addictive disorders), city syndromes do not qualify for chronic psychological disorders that require a diagnosis. Instead, these are unusual psychosomatic ‘syndromes’ triggered by factors like:

  • Frequent traveling
  • Cultural shock
  • Jet-lag
  • Difficulty adjusting to a new environment (like a new city)

The most famous types of city syndromes have been categorized according to the events that occurred within the cities and their exerted influence on perceptions of urban spaces and cultures. These events include:

  • Hostage-related events
  • Tourist city syndromes
  • Miscellaneous city syndromes

Examples Of Famous City Syndromes

The most famous of hostage city syndromes is “Stockholm syndrome”. It derived its name from a 1973 bank robbery in the Swedish capital that saw bank robbers take four bank employees hostage, for six days.

After the negotiated surrender of the robbers, the hostages refused to file charges against their captors and even raised money for their defense.

In psychology, this syndrome became synonymous with situations in which hostages develop a strong emotional connection with their captors during captivity. Composed along similar lines are the “Lima syndrome” and the “London syndrome”.

The foremost type of tourist city syndromes includes the “Paris syndrome” among Japanese tourists visiting the French capital. It arises from the jarring confrontation of an ‘ideal’ Paris with the abrasive nature of the city’s inhabitants.

Similarly, a majority of Christian and Jew pilgrims visiting the holy city of Jerusalem end up experiencing the “Jerusalem syndrome”. Sufferers have often been seen sermonizing, shouting on the street, and passionately reading passages from the New or Old Testaments.

Similarly, in “India syndrome”, western travelers to the subcontinent experience a form of psychosis. They abandon their belongings and obsessively wander around the country though disoriented or confused. Experts attribute the condition to a delusional sense of cultural exoticism or the tenacious quest for spiritual enlightenment.

Aesthetics syndromes are also rife with instances of city syndromes. For instance, in 1817, during a visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, the French author Stendhal entered a fugue state while viewing the artwork.

Years later, in 1979, Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini coined the term “Stendhal syndrome” to categorize a common syndrome that tourists experience while touring Florence. In sharp contrast, stands the “Venice syndrome”. It stands for the behavior of people traveling to Venice with the express intention of committing suicide in the city’s vast canal system!

Amongst the miscellaneous city syndromes, the most famous is the “Amsterdam syndrome”. Sufferers traveling through the Dutch capital briefly develop tendencies to share unconsented nude or intimate pictures of themselves with/without their spouses.

Similarly, the “Brooklyn syndrome” stands for the inhabitants’ aggressive attitudes towards visitors. Given the city’s amusing tryst with American serial killers in the 1970s, sometimes, the syndrome is used to denote psychopathological traits of the city’s citizens.

Addressing City Syndromes

City syndromes are rare psychiatric conditions that occur in bouts and can last for a lifetime. During the episodes, the sufferer may feel disabled from carrying out even the simplest of tasks. In such circumstances, his/her traveling experience and goals may also be hampered.

However, the symptoms of city syndromes can be easily managed through therapy, medications, and relaxation techniques.

Know More About –

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  2. Mood Disorders
  3. Psychotic Depression
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