Today in Military History: A Psychiatrist Reports the Effects of “Shell Shock”


On December 4, 1917, psychiatrist WHR Rivers reported on the phenomenon called “shell shock”.

Coined by soldiers, “shell shock” was the term for what we understand today as post-traumatic stress symptoms. It was a critical problem during World War I and, like today, it was especially difficult to diagnose and treat.

As more and more soldiers reported feelings of fatigue, confusion, nightmares, blurred vision and hearing, and even uncontrollable crying and body shaking, doctors struggled to understand the cause. cause.

Rivers, a pioneer in the field of war trauma, wrote about the repression of traumatic war experiences and its negative effects on the healing process. Rivers warned that the crackdown, in addition to causing suffering to the individual, also puts military units at risk, as the serviceman may appear fine one moment but be fired and incapacitated the next.

He strongly argued that fighters need to confront their trauma by talking about their experiences. One of the biggest challenges, according to Rivers, was that men tried to repress their traumatic experiences or extreme emotions; but by understanding the source of their problems, Rivers could help them heal. This primarily meant fighting the stigma of PTSD and deprogramming the notion of “sucking it in” – something modern warriors still struggle with.

Understanding of the psychological effects of trauma and war continues to evolve, but dealing with trauma remains a primary concern for veterans serving in war.

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