Havana Syndrome: An Argument for Mass Psychogenic Illness


Have you recently experienced headaches, fatigue, or ringing ears? If you have experienced any of these symptoms within the last 14 days and are waiting for the second part of this sentence to diagnose you with some sort of liver, kidney, or blood disease, you may stop holding your breath and stop your doctor’s dial tone. These symptoms are fairly common signs of living, but for CIA officials and diplomats in the Havana embassy in Cuba, these symptoms are a sign of a far more ambiguous inflictor. 

The first wave of reports came from CIA officials at the United States Havana Embassy in August 2017, and since then anywhere from 200 to 1000 embassy officials from around the world have reported a buzzing sound followed by intense dizziness, migraines, and fatigue. The weariness of communism during the cold war and tense political relationships between the U.S. and Cuba caused the embassy to be closed from 1961-2015, and upon reopening, the building wore the signature decomposition of abandonment but was buzzing with the hope of restoring diplomacy as the embassy became fully functioning.  

The first two cases were reported in late 2016, when two U.S. personnel reported hearing a metallic hissing, followed by nausea, headaches, and fatigue; between then and the summer of 2017, officials were warned if they experienced hearing the hissing, ringing, or buzzing of cicadas characteristic of Havana Syndrome, they needed to “get off the X;” in latent terms, put a wall between you and the perceived sound and move away from the spot of the occurrence. 

The University of Pennsylvania conducted extensive MRIs on 40 officials from Havana who experienced symptoms in 2018, and the report was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The report found several abnormalities including in the cerebellum structure and activity, and concussion-like symptoms. This report prompted news organizations around the world to accuse Havana officials, and Russians, of inflicting “audio shock,” with microwave energy or some sort of sound weaponry. 

Years later, with Havana Syndrome occurring in many other embassies such as the Berlin and Vienna embassies, the suggestion of sound warfare seems unlikely, and the cause of Havana syndrome is still largely unknown.

Years later, with Havana Syndrome occurring in many other embassies such as the Berlin and Vienna embassies, the suggestion of sound warfare seems unlikely, and the cause of Havana syndrome is still largely unknown. News organizations such as The New York Times, considered the possibility of Mass Hysteria, and after doing my own extensive months-long research into the history of mass hysteria, now known as Mass Psychogenic Illness, I have reached similar conclusions.

Most cases of Mass Psychogenic Illness are caused by environmental factors such as a persistent sound or smell, an uneasy political environment, economic turmoil, and many other niche factors that affect an individual’s stress levels and quality of life. As in the case of November 1998, when a Tennessee high school was shut down for several days after teachers and students experienced nausea, headaches, and dizziness, after some smelled a “gasoline-like” odor. Several agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, found no causes of the illnesses in the area, and no abnormalities in the school. In this case and potentially that of Havana Syndrome, the phenomena were triggered by an environmental factor that was perceived to be real, but was not, but consequently caused very real symptoms.

Conversion Disorder patients, those who are similarly subjected to real symptoms caused by no real threat or physical cause, have been found to have abnormal MRI scans like Havana Syndrome patients, in the last several decades. In an article published by The National Library of Medicine, several abnormalities were discovered in the brain; cerebellar structure and functions deviated from the norm greatly in Conversion Disorder patients, this region is also abnormal in Havana Syndrome patients, and this abnormality is highlighted in the aforementioned report. The cerebellum, also known as the “little brain,” is involved in many of the body’s functions, including but not limited to maintaining homeostasis and balance, and executing motor functions. 

My findings of continuities among Conversion Disorder patients, Mass Psychogenic Illness phenomena, and Havana Syndrome, as an amateur , suggests that the claim of Havana Syndrome being a case of Mass Psychogenic Illness has physiological foundations. Therefore the way it is treated and handled as a whole is altered. If you wish to see this argument in the greater context of modern history, I suggest coming to my Ted Talk during the third period on Friday, March 8.

The danger in health officials not being trained to handle Mass Psychogenic Illness is extensive, and further, if we aim to place the blame for Havana Syndrome on a foreign entity, diplomacy is at risk. Resources are needlessly depleted in trying to investigate sound weaponry; worse, those afflicted can not be given the due reassurance of answers until the possibility of Mass Psychogenic Illness is fully examined.