Saturday, October 29, 2016

PTSD Throughout American History

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

US soldierWar is horrific. Those who choose to fight for the freedoms we share risk not only loosing their lives or suffering bodily harm, they face emotional turmoil of having their friends shot in front of them and dealing with the emotional scars that living in wartime condition create. In honor of the veterans who have served our country, here is how PTSD was handled throughout US history.

Revolutionary War: In the 1700s, PTSD was called nostalgia. A French surgeon described it as having three stages: 1) “heightened excitement and imagination,” 2) “period of fever and prominent gastrointestinal symptoms,” and 3) “frustration and depression” (Bentley, 2005).

Not much was written about the effects of the war on soldiers. But they had to have suffered emotionally. These men fought for the freedom of their country in conditions where they didn't have the resources needed to keep them warm, dry, and fed. Many died from starvation and exposure. Yet after the war, when they returned to civilian life, they were forgotten. The new nation couldn't even afford to pay them.

War of 1812: Again, not much was known about PTSD during this time, but the White House burning to the ground and British soldiers marching into America had to affect these soldiers after the war was over.

Civil War: The Civil War is when the condition of PTSD first started to be recognized as Soldier's Heart. This war was one of the bloodiest in history. One million soldiers were wounded or died in the conflict. Many soldiers returning from battle after the war suffered the effects of soldier's heart. Some were unable to enter society again. Other suffered silently, but we know about their pain from letters and journals they wrote. Alcoholism grew to record numbers after the war.

 World War I: In World War I, PTSD was called Shell Shock. Life in the muddy trenches caused desperation and emotional turmoil. Many soldiers suffering from shell shock were executed for cowardice instead of treated for an emotional condition. Others were institutionalized as insane and were taught skills like basket weaving to support themselves. After the war, many soldiers suffering from this were encouraged to keep it hidden because of the attitude toward it.

World War II: In World War II, Battle Fatigue was a recognized condition by psychiatrist. Over a million men who suffered from it during the war were pulled away from duty for treatment and rest. The attitudes toward it were still not favorable, and those suffering from the condition were considered weak. In one account, General Patton slapped a man suffering from battle fatigue and called him a coward.

Korea and Vietnam: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual I (DSM-I) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1952 included a diagnosis for “gross stress reaction,” which was thought to be related specifically to combat-related trauma. However, “Gross Stress Reaction” was dropped from the DSM-II in 1968, for reasons that remain unknown (Andreasen, 2004). Soldiers from Vietnam were treated for Gross Stress Reaction, but their systems became worse when they returned home and were disdained for their service. Vietnam vets with PTSD were diagnosed as having Vietnam Combat Reaction, a severe form of PTSD.

Desert Storm and the War on Terror: PTSD, Post Tramatic Stress Disorder, is understood better now than it used to be, not only by mental health personnel who treat the disorder, but by the public. Soldiers go through a lot and need to be supported through the physical and emotional damage combat causes.

Tamera Lynn Kraft has always loved adventures and writes Christian historical fiction set in America because there are so many adventures in American history. She has received 2nd place in the NOCW contest, 3rd place TARA writer’s contest, and is a finalist in the Frasier Writing Contest.

Her novellas Resurrection of Hope and A Christmas Promise are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. My heart goes out to those men and women who suffer with this every day. May God bless them.

  2. I am so grateful for your insights. I'm a member of the DAR, and we do a lot of work to encourage American veterans, our heroes.

  3. It's interesting to see the different names for PTSD over the decades. It a sad thing that soldiers have to deal with it once they return home. I can't imagine what so of them must have endured.

  4. I had not connected the rate of alcoholism in the "wild west" and among early settlers on the Great Plains to PTSD from the Civil War, but it makes complete sense that that would have certainly played a role. Thank you for these insights. Where did you find the photo of the soldier hunkered down in a trench? That's so moving.

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  6. Thank you for this very interesting post. As a small child, I heard my grandparents talk about a relative that had "shell shock" and I have also heard older people speak of "battle fatigue" but it is only in the past few years, after reading about returning soldiers dealing with PTSD, that I can fully comprehend how War and Combat affects these brave men and women. May they find peace and comfort!

  7. Interesting post about the variety of names for PTSD throughout history. So many suffer with PTSD with veterans being one of the highest percentage. PTSD was a research project while obtaining my Masters degree.

  8. General Patton's reaction to one soldier with battle fatigue should not be considered typical of WWII attitudes. Patton was considered eccentric by his supporters, and teetering on insanity by his detractors.