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A History of PTSD

By Paul Mallott BA (Hons) Counselling Dip CBT


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

So, what is PTSD? You may already know, or at least many of us have heard the term. Well this age old problem in a sense is a new disorder. But why new?  Professionals are still learning about its causes, symptoms, and treatment. Most of the current theory about PTSD comes from one particular source - The Military - for the obvious reason: War causes trauma on a massive scale, and throughout History, each successive conflict led to new names for the condition and in addition to new theories about its causes.
  • During the American Civil War, doctors called combat-related trauma "Soldiers Heart". Why? Because PTSD can affect your heart as well as your thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.
  • World War One doctors called it "Shell Shock", thinking that it stemmed from changes in air pressure when artillery shells exploded.
  • During World War Two, doctors renamed combat trauma "Battle Fatigue" and made a terrible error of blaming it on a weakness of "Cowardice".
  • By the beginning of the Korean War, psychiatrists began to recognise PTSD, and dubbed it "Gross Stress Reaction", as a real disorder.
People who developed PTSD found little sympathy, and the cruel myth that PTSD was a sign of weakness persisted. This myth finally died out toward the end of the 20th Century, largely because soldiers from the Vietnam War and the Gulf War fought hard to get the Military and the rest of the world to take PTSD seriously. As a result, individuals who suffer with PTSD today are likely to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment, instead of a cold shoulder and the advice "Just get over it".

Everyone dealing with PTSD, on either a personal or professional level, owes a massive debt of gratitude to those wounded warriors who refused to sweep PTSD under the carpet. Their persistence gave PTSD research a huge boost, and research in turn opened the eyes of many professionals to the fact that PTSD is a recognised trauma which affects many people. I must however also point out that PTSD is not just an illness or trauma which affects soldiers alone, but also individuals who survived sexual assaults, natural disasters, illnesses, and other traumatic events. These people also have a real medical problem and a need for real medical help.

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