Lynzy Billing in Undark:
Anita’s case was far from unique. According to hospital records, the women’s ward in Herat saw 900 such cases that April. In 2021, the facility recorded 12,678 cases, up from 10,800 cases in 2020.
These mysterious ailments — often entailing loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis — have plagued girls and women in Afghanistan for more than a decade. Government officials, local media, and, often, the women themselves have described these events as poisonings, usually attributed to attacks by the Taliban or other militant groups. Doctors who review the cases have come to a different diagnosis: conversion disorder, part of a class of conditions called somatoform disorder.
Patients with somatoform disorder experience bodily symptoms with no apparent physical cause. Conversion disorder is a specific form in which a patient’s physical symptoms mimic a neurological disorder. The symptoms often follow a period of significant emotional or physical distress, and they are outside of the individual’s conscious control.