From Shell Shock to PTSD — The History of the PTSD in Soldiers
Years after soldiers return home from the battlefield, they may still be facing the horror of war everyday if they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. These soldiers can never truly leave the battlefield. The heightened sense of awareness that kept them alive in combat may become debilitating in their lives afterwards.
Studies show that more soldiers end up suffering from PTSD than any other group. Indeed, each war the U.S. has fought has left a portion of the population fighting its own private war with PTSD, with varying degrees of denial, acknowledgment, and support from the Veterans’ Administration, and the Federal Government.
The first accounts of PTSD are in battlefield situations. Long before the 20th Century, it was common that soldiers would suffer the psychological effects of war, but it was assumed that the cause was lack of courage or discipline. Before World War I in this country, symptoms among soldiers we now call PTSD were known as “exhaustion” or “battle fatigue”.
In World War 1, “shell shock” was prevalent from the tedious and seemingly endless spectacle of trench warfare. Many assumed that it was due to the high air pressure of drawn-out shelling campaigns, thus symptoms came to be known as “shell shock.” Those symptoms are precisely those of PTSD. Modern PTSD diagnoses were originally based on World War 1 shell shock symptoms.
In later 20th century wars, more and more veterans were reporting the symptoms of shell shock after leaving the military: anxiety, nightmares of battle scenes, depression, problems with relationships, etc. Five or ten years after World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the numbers of psychologically affected soldiers would rise dramatically. Eventually, clinicians and psychologists noticed that these symptoms were not limited only to soldiers, but were also reported from those who experienced other types of trauma — plane crashes, natural disasters, violent crimes and rape.
Finally, in 1980, post-traumatic stress disorder was given its own particular diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This helped to lend credibility to the reports from the soldiers’ own experience and began to reduce the stigma attached to a soldier claiming PTSD symptoms.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Soldiers
My phone session with Paul quickly focused on the trauma in a major event in my life. I re-experienced the event with a positive outcome. Then I had a dream in which I was attractive, physically powerful, adventurous and confident. I awoke with a smile and scrambled to write down the adventure. It was a wonderful confirmation of a shift deep within.
— S.S., 60 year old musician, songwriter
Soldiers on the battlefield continually confront highly traumatic situations. Direct threats on their lives and the lives of those around them leave lasting impressions. Soldiers who have near-death experiences or witness the death of another are naturally scarred by the experience and some have trouble ever processing the situation in a healthy way. Often soldiers that experience such events in combat have trouble integrating back in society and functioning normally. In part because of the trauma, and also because of the intensity of daily life in a battle zone, they may feel alienated from those who used to be close to them, and they may have feelings of guilt, remorse, or self-hatred.
Fortunately, there is help for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a large support system for soldiers suffering from PTSD and treatment is highly effective. While PTSD resulting from war has some unique symptoms, it is still very similar to PTSD caused by other forms of trauma. We have worked very successfully with combat veterans using the Somatic Experiencing approach. If you or someone you know may be suffering from PTSD, get help immediately.