Published by Picador
In Sweden, refugee children fall asleep for months and years at a time. In upstate New York, high school students develop contagious seizures. In the US Embassy in Cuba, employees complain of headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises in the night.
These disparate cases are some of the most remarkable diagnostic mysteries of the twenty-first century, as both doctors and scientists have struggled to explain them within the boundaries of medical science and – more crucially – to treat them. What unites them is that they are all examples of a particular type of psychosomatic illness: medical disorders that are influenced as much by the idiosyncratic aspects of individual cultures as they are by human biology.
Inspired by a poignant encounter with the sleeping refugee children of Sweden, neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan travels the world to visit other communities who have also been subject to outbreaks of so-called ‘mystery’ illnesses and attempts to unravel their complex meaning, while asking the question: who gets to define what is and what isn’t an illness?
Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, first working at the Royal London Hospital and now as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. She specializes in the investigation of complex epilepsy and also has an active interest in psychogenic disorders. Suzanne’s first book, It's All in Your Head, won both the Wellcome Book Prize and the Royal Society of Biology Book Prize and her critically acclaimed Brainstorm was published in 2018.
Follow Suzanne on Twitter @Suz_OSullivan