Havana Syndrome: a Psychological Phenomenon or Myth?

havana syndrome

Human civilization is built upon years of violence, betrayal, sacrifices, acts of heroism, and other terms that we have read in the history books.

Among all these stories, one intriguing thing that has always remained constant in public discussions is conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.

While conspiracy and pseudoscience are almost always baseless rumors and hoaxes, some specific things get dismissed due to such rumors.

What is a syndrome?

Syndromes are one such thing that seems to be often misunderstood by society. Syndromes are signs and symptoms of a condition; they can be physical or psychological. Syndromes show symptoms, but their causes are not  always clearly determined. While medical syndromes like Down syndrome and Turner syndrome are often recognized due to their physical appearance, psychological syndromes or internal syndromes are often sidelined or neglected due to a lack of awareness, such as Tourette syndrome, a tick disorder that causes a person to make uncontrollable sounds and movements.

What is Havana syndrome?

One such poorly understood syndrome is Havana syndrome. Havana syndrome is a set of symptoms that suddenly started to show in a few American diplomats in Cuba back in 2016. There was a loud ringing noise in the diplomat’s left ear, followed by nausea, vertigo, and damage to the eardrum. From 2016 to 2021, several military officials across several countries heard a noise of similar frequency in countries like India, China, the USA, Hanoi, and Europe.

Havana syndrome news caused sensational headlines back then, citing this strange health phenomenon that affected only individuals.

Despite a strange phenomenon that was experienced by government officials, neither country was able to pinpoint the source of the resulting health conditions.

In the beginning, US intelligence and the CIA held the Russian government responsible for the possible attack using sound waves, microwaves, and electromagnetic waves. Through the years, no clear evidence has been found to pinpoint the exact cause of this Havana syndrome.

While recent research by the CIA released a report, there is no factual evidence to claim Haan syndrome caused a suspicious attack by hostile spies and counties. The report stated that the potential for Havan syndrome symptoms is a phenomenon caused by radio waves, where stress and pre-existing medical conditions have also played a role in causing the syndrome. To date, there is no clear explanation behind the cause and symptoms of Havana syndrome, and it has been diagnosed as a psychosomatic illness or a mass psychogenic illness.

What is a psychogenic illness?

Mass psychogenic illness, also called mass hysteria, is a series of symptoms and illnesses experienced by people in groups without any psychic symptoms, reason, or cause behind the illness. Mass hysteria travels at a fast rate within a group and spreads among the people, causing extreme anxiety and panic. The most commonly reported symptoms of mass hysteria are headaches, followed by dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, abdominal pain, and other symptoms.

In incidents of Havana syndrome, the diplomats experienced symptoms of a psychogenic illness accompanied by pain in the ears and nose lasting from 20 seconds to 30 minutes. Other countries experienced a slightly different set of symptoms that differed in intensity.

As of 2024, the latest review has claimed Havana syndrome is a moral health scare gimmick that seems no longer an issue but whose integrity and reliability might be questionable.

psychogenic illness
psychogenic illness

Havana syndrome symptoms experienced by people

  • Hearing loss
  • Memory loss 
  • Headache
  • Nausea 
  • Vertigo
  • Screeching, chirping, and clicking noise
  • A sensation of intense pressure or vibration.
  • Loss of movement
  • Loss of concentration 

The biological basis of Havana syndrome

Several tests were conducted to determine the biological cause behind Havana syndrome, if any, and how it affects your brain. A research team of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) studied the symptoms of Havana Syndrome and its effects on health. They used MRI devices to study the neuropsychological function of the brain. The symptoms-induced incidents include hearing noise, cognitive dysfunction, headaches, etc. Over five years, the research concluded its findings, which stated that no major difference was found between the brain MRI of a person before and after the effect of Havana syndrome.

The psychology behind Havana Syndrome

The people who suffer from Havana syndrome describe their symptoms as screeching, chirping noise that gives a piercing sensation to the ears. Also, some physical symptoms were seen, such as loss of movement, vertigo, concentration problems, and hearing loss. One of the diplomats who suffered from Havana syndrome had to use a hearing aid afterward due to side effects.

Apart from all the symptoms, the reason behind them is also linked to psychological problems such as stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A study conducted by US-based psychologists compared Havana Syndrome to war trauma. During earlier times around WWI and WWII, soldiers tended to suffer from concussion-like symptoms after returning from war, known as shell shock, which later came to be called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Many experts did not conceive of the idea of stress and related trauma because of the vast geographical area that has been impacted by Havana syndrome.

Psychological Phenomenon or Myth
Psychological Phenomenon or Myth

Final verdict!

Through the years, countries like developed nations blamed each other for hostile attacks and spin techniques to gain information and disrupt the vital transmission systems of nations. However, thorough research by intelligence agencies could completely uncover the cause behind Havana syndrome. Havan syndrome has just remained a topic of news sensations, reports, podcasts, and conspiracies.

In the middle of all these speculations, we get to realize how easily a set of related symptoms, despite being factual, are often dismissed or misunderstood. A syndrome, like many others, becomes taboo very often, making the sufferer remain silent about it due to a lack of awareness and stigma around mental health.

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