The India Syndrome has not yet been recognized in the manuals of psychiatric disorders. For some years, delirium has been frequently observed in Western travelers (North Americans and Europeans). This occurs when traveling to the Indian subcontinent.
The first to publish this fact was the French psychiatrist Regis Airault. He observed and described it while working at the French Consulate in Mumbai. In 2000 he wrote the book “Fous de l’Inde: Delires d’Occidentaux et sentiment oceanique” (Crazy About India). Based on his explanation, this real syndrome affects young adults who travel to this country. Specifically, what is observed is an indecision of their identity. It shows itself in the form of psychotic experiences, in which there are feelings of strangeness and loss of contact with reality.
This disorder manifests itself when these people are in India. Surprisingly, it usually disappears quickly when they return to their home country. The most effective treatment seems to be to “buy a return flight ticket.”
Often, those who suffer this type of delusion believe to be possessed by a saint or have been blessed with supernatural powers. For instance, the belief that they can swim back to the United States or France from India. They also believe it’s possible to see their past lives (they usually “discover” that they were prominent members of royalty). Others think it’s possible to see through their third eye or are possessed by demons.
Why Do Westerners Become Fragile When Visiting India?
First, many travelers to India do not do so solely for its beauty. They wish to undertake a spiritual journey. Therefore, they sometimes enroll in yoga centers to live with gurus, take drugs, or engage in extreme physical practices for this purpose. The use of these practices causes a mental breakdown that can be brought on by culture shock. This causes some of them to experience a delusional state. On the other hand, it can be interpreted as a spiritual discovery or progress.
Airault observed that many travelers in their 20s and 30s arrived in India excited and in perfect health. However, after a few weeks, they felt disoriented and confused. They would later exhibit manic (excessive euphoria) or delusional behavior. This would put their physical health at risk or cause problems with the authorities. In extreme cases, some travelers lose connection with reality.
Some travelers would burn their passports and end up in prison. Others wander India, while their families lose track of them, and others claim to hear the voices of the local gods.
Two Types of Western Travellers
According to Delhi psychiatrist Dr. Sunil Mittal, he claims that there are two types of Western travelers affected by this syndrome. On the one hand, some travelers go to India for tourism. Some bring from their country of origin some psychological trauma or unresolved emotional problems. This person was already emotionally vulnerable. However, in India, something triggers a conflict that intensely manifests itself. On the other hand, some travelers are determined to embark on a spiritual journey and find a higher meaning to their existence. In general, these travelers seek a break from their previous life. It is common for them to confide in, or even fall in love or have sexual relations with yogis or gurus. These experiences end up provoking an inner emptiness. This causes disorientation or a state of excessive euphoria. In both cases, the traveler does not know how to cope. However, with this type of traveler, drug use acts as an accelerator to this state of confusion. Similarly, like a bomb that explodes their emotional tension.
Occasionally, small business owners or neighbors in Indian cities or towns call the police because they see Westerners acting oddly. They travel aimlessly, locked up in houses or caves without contact with anyone, walking around half-naked at night, or performing erotic dances in front of passers-by or religious personalities.
Although, as mentioned above, the most effective treatment is usually returning home. In some cases, this disorder causes behavioral disturbances that become permanent. Some are diagnosed as schizophrenic upon returning home or end up being hospitalized. In some cases, patients report feeling safe only in India. For instance, once they arrive home and fully recover, they claim how they would like to return to India.
Airault says some travelers automatically wander as if they were in another world. They seem to lack desires, and “the limit may be death.”
Controversy About The Existence of This Syndrome
The India syndrome is a proposed disorder that evicts pronounced behavioral changes and is evident when travelers suffer when visiting tourist destinations.
The Paris or Florence Syndrome
The Paris syndrome or Florence syndrome refers to the physiological changes experienced when exposed to beautiful works of art. Symptoms of this alleged syndrome would include an increased heart rate, the presence of tremors, palpitations, vertigo, or even certain states of confusion. This syndrome is also called Stendhal syndrome, after the 19th-century French writer Henri-Marie Beyle. He used this pseudonym in his writings.
When visiting Italy, he had to interrupt his trip to recover. “He had reached that point of emotion where the celestial sensations given by the Fine Arts and the passionate feelings meet. Leaving Santa Croce, my heart was pounding life, and life was drained out of me. I was afraid of falling”.
The Stockholm Syndrome
On the other hand, The Stockholm Syndrome refers to the affective bond that victims of kidnapping or illegal restraint show towards their captors. These people interpret the absence of violence as an act of humanity or kindness.
Therefore, they tend to show condescension, appreciation, or love towards them. Frequently, they fear or show anger towards the police or relatives who want to free them. This syndrome came into use after the Stockholm bank hijacking in 1973, which involved four hostages. When released, they stated: “I’m not scared of the hijacker, I’m scared of the police,” or “I trust him [the hijacker] completely; I would travel with him to the end of the world.” Some hostages who are kidnapped by muggers, terrorists, or mafia gangs end up being active members of these groups. Why? Because of the supposed affective effects of this syndrome towards their captors.
The Jerusalem Syndrome
In the Jerusalem syndrome, some people show symptoms similar to the India syndrome. Psychotic pictures can be triggered in which the traveler believes he is a character of the Old or New Testament (Moses, David, Jesus, John the Baptist, etc.). These people identify with these characters while reciting speeches aloud in public and dressing in sheets or tunics of the time. They may also be convinced that they have healing or miraculous powers. Thus believing that they can apply to their benefit or the benefit of others.
Scientific Opinion on Syndromes Linked to Cities or Countries
In psychiatry and psychology, using syndromes with the name of a city or country is usually avoided. This is to prevent stigmatization or the perpetuation of stereotypes of some regions or cities concerning others. For this reason, when patients suffer these symptoms, we prefer to speak of a psychotic state, post-traumatic stress, or anxiety attack.
However, in some contexts (like cities, temples, and countries), it can act as a facilitator or trigger of conflicts present in the person. This emotional or spiritual transformation has positive or negative effects on a person. As a result, what happens is that others are more notorious (and more worrying for the relatives or the society). Destructive results are obtainable to the one who suffers them.
In the same way, occasional drug use by itself does not necessarily trigger these disorders. But they can act as accelerators of their manifestation, and places (houses, cities, regions, countries, even specific people) could have a similar effect.
Comparingly, travel is like life itself. It is an opportunity for change. It would be wrong to give physical places responsibility for our actions. We must learn to choose those places and integrate wise and balanced ways. There are moments in our lives that are more appropriate than others to make changes. But, it is up to us to be the true protagonists of our destiny.