Post-traumatic stress syndrome was not a diagnosis during World War One, and no one knew about how intense stress affects the mind. It soon became readily apparent, however, when a new disease, shell shock, began showing up in otherwise healthy soldiers.
The disease showed up early in the war. Symptoms included:
- Ringing in the ears
- Nervous twitches and ticks
- Sensitivity to sound
- Uncontrollable diarrhea
- Hysterical blindness
- A blank stare
Many symptoms were associated with injuries, but the men had no physical wounds.
Medical personnel did not understand the causes of shell shock. Many sufferers were labeled cowards, trouble makers and just unable to get a grip on reality. Some men were executed for military cowardice, especially if shell shock symptoms returned after treatment.
Some doctors thought symptoms were the result of brain or nerve injuries caused by the shock waves of exploding shells or that perhaps the shells emitted poisons.
However, there were others doctors who recognized that the condition was psychiatric in nature. Psychiatry was relatively new in the 1910s but it increasingly became an accepted form of medical treatment. The term shell shock was first used in 1917.
In time, armies learned how to deal with shell shock cases.
Men who showed symptoms were allowed a few days rest to prevent a more serious case. If this didn’t work, the soldier was sent to a casualty clearing station for observation and finally to a psychiatric hospital.
Although many men were treated and sent back to the front, the majority did not return to the battlefield, and many continued to receive help years after the war ended. And some didn’t develop shell shock until returning to civilian life.
The following is film footages of a shell shock victim.
Have you ever known someone affected with PTSD? Leave a comment below.
Enjoyed reading this post? Join the mailing list and receive updates in your inbox whenever a new post is published. Simply enter your email address in the form on the bottom right of this page.