How Has Dealing With PTSD Changed Throughout The History Of War?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has been around as long as people have been faced with traumatic situations. However, our understanding of the disorder and how we’ve referred to it has certainly shifted over time. From “shell shock” to “brown dust,” the language and methods used to treat PTSD have changed in focus and effect with each war, battle, or conflict. Here are some of the different ways militaries and veterans have dealt with PTSD over the last few centuries.

8. The Revolutionary Wars

During the French Revolutionary Wars at the end of the 18th century, physicians noticed soldiers collapsing after being brushed by incoming shells, though the men appeared unharmed. This behavior was referred to as “vent du boulet” syndrome, or the fear of the wind from a cannonball.

The French physician and psychiatrist Philippe Pinel referred to the behavior of the patients he saw as “cardiorespiratory neurosis” or “idiotism.” The Austrian physician Josef Leopold Auenbrugger wrote about it as “nostalgia,” because soldiers, who suffered from homesickness, reported feeling anxious and depressed while also experiencing sleeplessness. With so little known about the disorder, it wasn’t so much something to deal with, but to ignore.

7. Civil War

By the time of the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution brought PTSD-like symptoms into the collective conscious of the American public. Survivors of big factory or railroad accidents exhibited symptoms of anxiety or sleeplessness, which became known as “railway spine” or “railway brain.” To explain these mental problems, medical research indicated that these accidents caused lesions on the brain.

During the Civil War, doctors used “nostalgia” as a diagnosis, though many on the battlefield thought of this condition as an emotional problem. Dr. Jacob Mendez Da Costa studied the symptoms of Civil War soldiers, who were experiencing elevated pulse rates and blood pressure, constricted breathing, palpitations, and fatigue. The condition became known as “irritable heart” or “soldier’s heart.” Those who suffered from these symptoms were often medicated and sent back into battle. In more extreme cases, soldiers were simply sent away in a train car or sent to an asylum for long-term treatment.

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