WW1 historian calls for PTSD pledge

A prize-winning First World War historian and psychiatrist has called for a cross-party commitment to deliver improved services for armed forces veterans battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) this Mental Health Awareness Week.

Dr Stefanie Linden’s proposal for a book examining the psychological effect of trench warfare on First World War soldiers won The Western Front Association’s Edmonds Prize; entitled They Called It Shellshock it was published by Helion and Company in 2016.

She now calls upon all parties gearing up for the General Election to “learn the lessons of history” and to pledge a commitment to increased investment in mental health care for veterans.

Combat Stress reported 2,472 referrals in the financial year 2015-16, which amounts to a 71 per cent increase in the number of veterans seeking the charity’s help for mental illness in the last five years,” says Stefanie – a Clinical Research Fellow from the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences at Cardiff University.

“At a time of mounting global tensions, I think it’s timely – especially during this First World War centenary year – to remind ourselves of the lasting psychological trauma war inflicts on combatants.

‘Charities like Combat Stress are doing a fantastic job, but – as Britain prepares to go to the polls on 8 June – we need a commitment from all parties to invest in lasting support for those who have served and continue to serve this country.”

Stefanie’s research uncovered hundreds of shellshock cases – soldiers who had been psychologically scarred by their war experiences – as she examined the First World War medical case records of the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic (today the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery) and the Charité Psychiatric Department in Berlin.

“It is estimated that more than 80,000 British servicemen suffered a breakdown on the Western Front,” says Stefanie.

“Unable to get away physically from enemy fire, some entered a dissociative state. Others lost all contact with the real world, experiencing psychotic episodes which became epidemic – spreading from one soldier to the next. The ‘Angels of Mons’ – a cloud of angelic warriors that appeared at Mons and halted the German advance against a vastly outnumbered British force – were the most famous occurrence.

‘Others experienced breakdowns while home on leave. Symptoms include paralyses, shaking, stuttering, deafness and fits, but also depression, anxiety and nightmares which veterans of Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan also present to this day.

‘Psychological therapies developed for shellshock symptoms were promising in the early part of the 20th century and we have added to our learning since then. However, it is vital that investment into research and treatment continues so we can properly safeguard the mental health of returning veterans.”

They Called It Shellshock is available for purchase here.

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