A Glimpse of Humanity to the History of PTSD

A human being exposed to traumatic experiences has always been a part of life. Many of the books written in literature account for the first descriptions of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including The Iliad, Henry IV, and A Tale of Two Cities. They consist of traumatic events and the symptoms that followed from them. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), also known as shell shock or combat stress, occurs after experiencing severe trauma or a life-threatening event. It’s normal for a mind and body to be in a state of shock after a particular event. Still, this rational response can advance to PTSD when the nervous system gets “stuck.” PTSD came to the public’s knowledge when the American Psychiatric Association added health issues to its diagnostic manual of mental disorders in the 1980s.

The existence of combat-obtained psychological trauma likely goes back to the Greek historian Herodotus. The symptoms exist not because of the physical wounds obtained from a battle but by the great fear of witnessing a comrade being killed during combat. It is presumed that the way ancient soldiers experienced the distress of war is much the same as their modern-day counterparts. The Civil War witnessed the increased and widespread use of firearms such as rapid-fire rifles, telescopic sights, and other weaponry innovations that massively impacted increased destructiveness in battle and left those who survived with a myriad of physical and psychological injuries. The Civil War also marked the start of formal medical attempts to address the psychological effects of combat on military veterans.

The number of US veterans with disabilities has boomed in numbers in recent years as service members have returned home from combat, acquiring functional limitations such as injuries and chronic disease. Many older Veterans noticed their PTSD symptoms, even 50 or more years after their wartime experience. Stressors, including retirement, deterioration of health, decreased sensory abilities, reduced financial support, loss of loved ones, decreased social support, cognitive impairment, and other stressors may increase symptoms as Veterans age.

Now that we’ve taken a glimpse into the history of PTSD, it may help us understand the disorder better and the people who are struggling with it. Know that PTSD is not just a feeling or something a person can get over with over time, but a medical condition in need of treatment and support.

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