Fact 27

PTSD and the Military

Today, June 27, 2018, is PTSD Awareness Day. I thought it appropriate to honor the military today because it was the first leader in researching and treating PTSD. We also owe an unfathomable debt to soldiers and veterans, who have witnessed or borne atrocities most of us can’t even imagine.

Since ancient times, those involved with war have observed its psychological effects on soldiers. This timeline tracks the course from early efforts to today in addressing, defining, and treating the psychological devastation of war:


Austrian physician Josef Leopold documented “nostalgia” among soldiers.


The American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War marked the first formal efforts to address the psychological needs of military personnel. He described soldiers as having “nostalgia” and feeling “sad, homesick, exhausted, and anxious.

A diagnosis of “soldier’s heart” or “irritable heart” followed documentation of rapid pulse, anxiety, and difficulty breathing. It was thought that these symptoms appeared because of overstimulation of the heart’s nervous system. Soldiers were given drugs to control the symptoms and sent back to battle.


President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day, the day World War I ended. At that time, soldiers were said to have “shell shock,” including panic, sleep problems, and other symptoms.

This condition was also called “war neuroses.” Soldiers suffering from these symptoms got only a few days rest before going back to battle and often developed chronic symptoms. These symptoms were treated with increased activity to increase functioning, and, in Europe, hydrotherapy or electrotherapy.


During World War II, “shell shock” became “Combat Stress Reaction” or “battle fatigue.” For the first time, emphasis was placed on developing strong unit relationships for suffering soldiers, as well as providing support.


The first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I) was published. It included a diagnosis of “gross stress reaction” used for people who had reactions to trauma.


The DSM-II eliminated the gross stress reaction diagnosis and added “adjustment reaction to adult life,” which was clearly inadequate in describing PTSD symptoms.


The DSM was steadily updated to reflect ongoing research about PTSD. A surprise finding was that PTSD is relatively common and not just limited to military personnel.

Without the persistent efforts of the U.S. Military to research PTSD and create treatments for it, the suffering of people today would be even harder to bear. And without the sacrifice of countless soldiers who went to war and came back shattered, neither our country nor our knowledge about PTSD would be anything like it is today.

Did you do anything to mark today as a special day (PTSD Awareness Day)?