PTSD: A Problem since the Invention of War
Post Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be defined as an emotional illness rooting from anxiety that happens when a person was exposed to a scary, dangerous, and even life threatening event. The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms, such as disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal, continue for more than a month after the occurrence of a traumatic event. More than 5 million Americans are affected by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) each year. The history of post traumatic stress disorder was not well documented until it was appropriately defined in modern times.
From Ancient Times
Post traumatic stress disorder has existed as long as there has been trauma. Although PTSD is not limited to war experience, it was battle that brought it to public attention. PTSD has been documented for having going on for thousands of years, although went through history being called different names. During early war periods, PTSD was referred to by many names such as "shell shock," "exhaustion" and "battle fatigue."
Throughout history, there have been accounts of soldiers fleeing the battlefield, having emotional breakdowns and suffering the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Some of the earliest record of PTSD was from 3,000 years ago, a man named Hori who was an Egyptian combat veteran wrote about his feelings before going to war – describing that “shuddering seizes you, the hair on your head stands on end, your soul lies in your hand.”
The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians many of the time psychologically broke while wars went on. Although there wasn’t a name for PTSD yet, a Greek historian named Herodotus wrote about a man, Epizelius, who went permanently blind although he wasn’t physically wounded anywhere called hysterical blindness, after seeing the person next to him being killed in the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Deafness and paralysis were also common in some soldiers due to PTSD. In 1678, Swiss military physicians were among the first to identify and group behaviors of PTSD (although it was not called this).
During the American Civil War, military physicians attributed many emotionally disabling behaviors to stress and fear of battle. Military physicians were at a loss to treat the soldiers so many were sent home with no supervision. The symptoms of battle related stress were dismissed as lack of discipline and cowardice.
In 1905, during their war with the Japanese, the Russian army was the first to connect mental collapse with the stress of war and accept it as a legitimate condition.
World War I produced many psychiatric casualties and during this period, symptoms of PTSD were still viewed as a weakness in character. Some soldiers fled the battlefield as they were so traumatized by the mass slaughter. Such was the ignorance of the time about the mental effects of war that some of these soldiers were accused of being cowards and executed.
Interest in shellshock waned as memories of World War I receded, but it was reawakened by the advent of World War II. As had happened previously, soldiers who were chronically exposed to combat experienced a syndrome characterized anxiety, intense autonomic arousal, reliving, and sensitivity to stimuli that are reminiscent of the original trauma. Around this time, people started to notice that not just the “weak” were breaking down. This syndrome was given a variety of different names: traumatic war neurosis, combat fatigue, battle stress, and gross stress reaction. When the war drew to its end, another type of stress was discovered: the experience of death camp survivors.
Continuing in the Korean war, those who became psychologically ill were 24.2% of 198,380 in combat that were recorded. In Vietnam, out of the 2.8 million who served, 480,000 have full-blown PTSD, and 350,000 others have partial PTSD. Many soldiers tried to detach from emotions of people and the war, which caused emotional numbing. PTSD was largely disregarded for decades. After much research, study, and suffering on the part of war veterans it began to be recognized as a legitimate condition.
Trauma Related to Other Events
Although post traumatic stress disorder came into the public eye through war veterans, it was later realized that the condition was not solely experienced by those engaged in military battle. Events such as sexual assault, physical abuse, car accidents, plane crashes and natural disasters like an earthquake could result in post traumatic stress disorder.
Before the full impact of PTSD became known, this type of stress was often viewed as a weakness by others. Once it was understood that the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder was the mind's attempt to process the traumatic event, the reality of the disorder was gradually recognized. And the proper help and treatments could be given.