Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of World War I

The soldiers that fought during World War I faced many difficulties during the war - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of World War I introduction. These difficulties included day to day combat, little or no food for days at a time, health issues that arose from the poor conditions, and having to deal with the mental strain of the war. Your average person either knows or has heard of these difficulties, but the average person probably doesn’t know about the problems these soldiers face upon their return home. The main problem for returning soldiers is what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, post-traumatic stress disorder refers to an anxiety disorder that some people get after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. To give further detail of the disorder the APA also classifies an anxiety disorder as a mental illness in which the sufferer feels an exceptional level of fear and apprehension. The APA also states that any event that causes a person to experience intense fear, horror, or helplessness can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

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In order to be officially diagnosed a person must meet the criteria of having the required number of reexperiencing, hyperarousal, and avoidance/numbing symptoms. To be officially diagnosed the person must experience one of the five reexperiencing symptoms, two of the five hyperarousal symptoms, and three of the seven avoidance/numbing symptoms. The five reexperiencing symptoms are having intrusive memories of the event, having recurrent dreams of the event, times when the person believes the event is happening again, intense distress when reminded of the event, and intense reactions when reminded of the events.

The hyperarousal symptoms are difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance or feeling on the edge, and exaggerated startle response or overreacting to things like loud noises. The avoidance/numbing symptoms include attempts to avoid thoughts, feelings, and conversations about the event, avoiding activities, places, or people that causes memories of the event, inability to remember an important part of the event, reduces interest in activities, detachment or estrangement from others, restricted range of emotions, and a sense of a foreshortened future.

The term post-traumatic stress disorder was not yet identified or acknowledge at the time of the war, nor was it recognized as a serious mental illness while any of the World War I veterans were still alive. Do to this fact; many of the statistics on post-traumatic stress disorder pertaining to World War I are either based on the little documented cases or from statistics of more modern wars. With this being said, the numbers about post-traumatic stress disorders of World War I are not nor will they ever be one hundred percent accurate.

Although there is a clear and precise definition and criteria to be diagnosed, the term post-traumatic stress disorder did not become an official psychiatric diagnosis until 1980, when it appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses and their symptoms. Although the official term did not exist, the soldiers still experienced the effects of the disorder. Throughout the years the same illness has had many different names.

The names of the disease include melancholia or insanity during the revolutionary era, soldier’s heart or irritable heart during the American Civil War, shell shock during World War I, and finally battle fatigue or exhaustion during World War II and Vietnam, before officially being named post-traumatic stress disorder. During World War I most of the medical profession did not even recognize “shell shock” as a serious or real mental illness. Due to this condition being poorly understood many soldiers who did suffer from it were never diagnosed or properly treated.

Now that historians and the medical profession has looked back at the suicide rates at the time or the war and the years after, it has been determined that a large number of them could have been prevented, if post-traumatic stress disorder had been published and accepted by society. Many soldiers who fought in World War I did not receive the treatment they so badly needed mainly due to the officers in charge of the military. During the war the military leaders from all the countries expressed their dislike in the illness of “shell shock” or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The leaders said that if shell shock became an honorable route to escape from the combat of the war, too many soldiers would use it as an excuse and they would no longer have soldiers to fight. Due to this fear the leaders denied to honor very few of the soldiers request to leave the front because of shell shock. Besides the leaders not allowing the soldiers themselves were reluctant to pursue the issue. This is because there were reports that the governments of the involved nations were going to deny pensions to victims of shell shock because no such condition existed.

Since there is no statistics kept on post-traumatic stress disorder historians have been forced to used more modern statistics and apply the number to give a relative idea of the number affected in World War I. Using this method it can be assumed that roughly eighteen to thirty percent of the soldiers experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their life. These numbers vary greatly due to the statistics kept on the Vietnam War. In these studies it was determined that forty percent of the soldiers didn’t experience symptoms until two decades after returning home.

Due to this wide time span it is hard to tell exactly how many of the World War I would have still been living to give an accurate number. Another great factor, which raises the estimated number of victims, is that the soldiers in World War I spent much more time on the front lines and experienced a completely different and more graphic war than any other soldier after them. Although the soldiers of World War I have been recognized for their troubles and harsh conditions, as well as they should have, they have not received the recognition of the ongoing battle they faced upon returning home.

Today it is accepted and understandable for soldiers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but back then it was looked down upon for soldiers to have this condition. Due to this many of these soldiers had to face problems on their own and in some cases the stress became too much for the soldiers. I feel like people would have looked differently at the war if they knew of these problems at the time, but since the time has already passed, today’s society needs to give even more recognition and praise to the soldiers who fought in World War I.

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