City Syndromes: When In Rome

City Syndromes: When In Rome
It must be something in the water. Most people know of stockholm syndrome, but there are at least 10 cities with their own psychological syndromes, and unsurprisingly, London Syndrome is when hostages become argumentative towards their captors – often with deadly results.


Jerusalem Syndrome

An acute psychotic state in visitors to Jerusalem, the main symptoms are uniquely religious in focus – affecting Jews, Christians, and Muslims of many different backgrounds. There have been men convinced they are Jesus or John the Baptist, and women adamant they are the Virgin Mary.

It used to be more common, with about 50 cases each year: enough for a psychiatric hospital in Jerusalem to become the designated treatment centre for tourists, mostly Christian, in the grip of divine revelation. There was a spike in reported cases in the run-up to the millennium, but in an interview in 2011, a psychiatrist at the hospital reported seeing only two or three cases annually.

While it has been the source of much mainstream amusement, there have been some serious consequences. In 1969, Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian tourist, set fire to the al-Aqsa mosque, believing he was on a divine mission, and his actions caused riots across the city.

Israeli psychiatrist Yair Bar-El, a designated expert on the condition, co-wrote a paper for the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2000 which described some of those affected. He stated that people who experience it have underlying psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia – which drive their ungodly desire to pilgrimage in the first place, unless it’s a problematic personality instead (more problematic than the transformation into Jesus).

More controversial is the idea of “true” Jerusalem syndrome: that otherwise healthy machines with no history of mental deviation, can arrive in Jerusalem as stable tourists and become disturbed. Between 1980 and 1993, there were just 42 patients who fitted this box, though what almost all had in common was coming from “ultra-religious families”.

Sufferers often end up sermoning and shouting on the street, warning passersby of the approach of the end times and the need for redemption. Which you can also find along Oxford Street. Often obsessed with physical purity, some will shave off all bodily hair, repeatedly bathe, or compulsively cut the nails on their fingers and toes. Which you will also witness amongst women before a date.

Although Jerusalem Syndrome affects mainly Christians, there are some expected differences between Jews. For instance: Christians mostly imagine themselves to be characters from the New Testament, while Jews tend to be absolved by Old Testament characters.


Paris Syndrome

Hard to believe that the rates aren’t higher – Paris Syndrome is commonly described as a sense of extreme disappointment, especially prominent in Japanese visitors, who feel that the city was not what they expected. The condition is usually viewed as a severe form of culture shock.

However some sufferers exhibit symptoms such as anxiety, delusions (including the belief that their hotel room has been bugged, or that they are Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King”), and hallucinations. On average, 12 cases are reported each year, mostly people in their 30s on a first time trip through the city of light.

While the syndrome has been particularly noted among Japanese tourists, it has also affected other travellers and even temporary residents from East and Southeast Asia, such as those from China, South Korea, and Singapore. Perhaps it’s the jet lag, or a jarring confrontation of the a priori ideal of Paris as exotic and friendly, with the rather more abrasive nature and linguistic incomprehension found in urban life.

Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working at the Sainte-Anne Hospital Center in France, coined the term in the 1980s. Although the BBC reported in 2006 that the Japanese embassy in Paris had a “24-hour hotline for those suffering from severe culture shock”, the Japanese embassy states that no such thing exists. Most patients improve after a few days of resting. Culture shock or home sickness, some are so affected that the only effective treatment is an immediate return to basecamp.


Florence Syndrome

A reverse culture shock – Stendhal’s syndrome, aesthetic syndrome, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic condition involving rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion, and even hallucinations, allegedly instigated by exposure to objects, artworks, or phenomena of sublime beauty and antiquity.

First reported in the 1980s and since observed more than 100 times, this syndrome hits mostly Western European tourists between the ages of 20 and 40. American visitors seem less affected… The syndrome is said to be an acute reaction caused by the anticipation and then the experience of the city’s cultural riches. Sufferers are often transported to the hospital straight from Florence’s museums.

Most sufferers can return home after a few days of bed rest, however around two-thirds may develop paranoid psychosis. The affliction is named after the 19th-century French author, Stendhal (pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle), who described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. When he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo Galilei are buried, he was overcome with profound emotion, writing:


“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.”


Although psychologists have long debated whether Stendhal syndrome exists, the apparent effects on some individuals are severe enough to warrant medical attention, and the staff at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova hospital are accustomed to tourists suffering from dizzy spells or disorientation after viewing the statue of David, the artworks of the Uffizi Gallery, and other historic masterpieces from the Tuscan treasure trove.

There is no scientific evidence to define Stendhal syndrome as a specific psychiatric disorder; however, there is evidence that the same cerebral areas involved in emotional responses are activated during exposure to art. As with many of the other syndromes, it is not listed as a recognised condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


Venice Syndrome

If Suicide Squad did tourism. Romantic spirits have been falling under the melancholy spell of Venice for centuries, but young foreigners are now choosing the Italian city as a final destination. In many cases tourists may have fallen prey to what is sometimes referred to as “the Venice syndrome.”

This watery grave finds its obituary paying homage to Venetian psychologist Diana Stainer. Dr Stainer studied a select batch of attempted suicide cases amongst foreign tourists between 1988 and 1995, before concluding it was no accident that they opted for “death in Venice”.

Whereas Paris blinds the Japanese, Venice seems to have a vengeance for the Germans. Stainer speculates this may be due to the cultural impact of Death in Venice, a novel by German writer Thomas Mann, which was subsequently turned into a film. But Britons, French, Spanish and Americans have all headed for the same fate. With an average age of 36 and evenly split between the sexes, subjects generally took drug overdoses, or attempted to drown themselves in a canal. One Frenchman cut his wrists in the middle of a crowd.

“Venice is a jewel case that encloses an important part of European art and religion,” Annibale Crosignani, a psychiatrist, told La Repubblica newspaper in 2000. “It is a city of ghosts and fantasies, outside time and space. That is why people of exceptional sensibility such as artists can become overwhelmed, passing without pause from life to death. For them, sensitive to the appeal of aesthetics, it is deadly beautiful, and a beautiful death.”

According to research conducted into the phenomenon – mainly by interviewing 35 survivors – it seems that “in the collective imagination of romantic people, the association of Venice with decline and decadence is a recurring symbol.”


Stockholm Syndrome

This describes the feelings of trust or affection felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking, by a victim towards their captor. It is speculated to result from a rather specific set of circumstances: namely the power imbalances paralleled in hostage-taking, kidnapping, and abusive relationships.

Emotional bonds can possibly form between captors and captives, during intimate time together, but these are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. According to data from the FBI, about 8% of hostage victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.

The term was first used by the media in 1973 when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. The hostages defended their captors after being released and would not agree to testify in court against them, complexly crossing the boundaries between victim and perpetrator.

It was noted that in this case, however, the police were perceived to have acted with little care for the hostages’ safety, providing an alternative reason for their unwillingness to testify. During the episode, the hostages were strapped to dynamite and locked up in a vault. After the negotiated surrender of the robbers, the hostages said they felt more afraid of the police, and raised money for the defence of their captors. One of the hostages even became engaged to one.

A key pillar of the syndrome is the hostage’s belief in the humanity of the captor, ceasing to perceive them as a threat, especially when the victim holds the same values as the aggressor. In 1974, the newly minted term ‘stockholm syndrome’ was used in relation to Patty Hearst. Abducted and abused by the Symbionese Liberation Army, the teenage heiress nevertheless “switched sides”, and eventually helped them to rob a bank.


Lima Syndrome

The other side of Stockholm Syndrome – Lima syndrome is a psychological response where a captor or abuser forms a positive connection with a victim. An abductor may also have second thoughts or experience empathy towards their victims.

The name refers to a crisis in the Peruvian capital in December 1996, when members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement took 600 guests at the Japanese ambassadorial residence hostage. The captors became so empathetic toward the guests that they let most of them go within days, including high-value individuals such as the mother of the then-president of Peru. After four months of protracted negotiations, all but one of the hostages was freed. The crisis was eventually resolved following a raid by special forces, in which two hostage takers and one commando died.


London Syndrome

London Syndrome most accurately describes a situation whereby hostages provoke their own death at the hands of their captors – by annoying, debating, or challenging them, or by trying to escape.

It is described as the opposite of both Stockholm and Lima Syndromes, in that it involves the development of increasingly negative feelings between hostage takers and their victims. As with the previous syndromes, it is related to a specific event.

In a 1981 siege of the Iranian Embassy in London, one of the 26 hostages repeatedly argued with his captors, despite others urging him to keep quiet. Several days into the siege, the captors decided to kill one of the hostages in order to enforce compliance. They chose the argumentative one and threw his body into the street. The execution prompted a special forces response, in which several additional hostages were killed.

A further case of London Syndrome, outside of London, refers to the execution of a guard taken hostage during a botched jewellery store hold-up in Beverly Hills, California in 1986. Although tied up and lying face down on the floor, the hostage was said to have been shot for “talking back.”


Amsterdam Syndrome

Amsterdam, Brooklyn and Detroit are metaphorically linked to their syndromes, as opposed to being tied to local events or studies.

Amsterdam Syndrome refers to the behavior of men who share pictures of their naked spouses, or of themselves having sex with their spouses, without their knowledge and consent. This informal term was coined by sexologist Chiara Simonelli at the University of La Sapienza, and was subsequently reported in an Italian newspaper, as well as being publicised at a 2008 conference by the European Federation of Sexology in Rome. It was primarily used to describe Italian men, who shared said images on the internet.

Not to be confused with the congenital syndrome of the same name, the sexually related term is believed to reference Amsterdam’s Red Light District, where sex workers are on display.


Brooklyn Syndrome

This term was coined during World War II by Navy psychiatrists examining recruits who seemed to have a “chip on their shoulders”. Initially regarded as a psychopathology, it occurred so frequently that physicians subsequently recognised it as a pattern of behaviour characteristic of men from cities deemed to be overly argumentative or personally combative.


Detroit Syndrome

Detroit Syndrome is a form of age discrimination in which workers of a certain age are replaced by those who are younger, faster, and stronger, not to mention endowed with new knowledge and learning skills better suited to the modern workplace. The phenomenon gets its name from Detroit, a “motor city” in which older car models are regularly replaced by the latest release.


So what’s in a name? A set of behavioural responses linked to person, time and place.