The documentation of effects of war and trauma or people is available since centuries. Fables have been written about how tragic loss of a close one, war or rape has scarred people for life. It wasn’t until recently though, that we started calling it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

History of PTSD

In the 19th century, psychiatry and medicine didn’t really accept that psychological trauma could have roots in the perception of a traumatic event. They believed that every psychological dysfunction must have a physiological basis. According to doctors of that time, trauma was caused due to some damage to the nervous system.

‘functional problems are produced by molecular changes in the central nervous system, any suggestion that these difficulties could have an origin in an individual’s perceptions of a traumatic event is incorrect’ (Oppenheim 1889)

This traumatic dysfunction had been diagnosed under different names that suggested a physical basis. These names included- ‘soldier’s heart’, ‘spinal concussion’, ‘shell shock’ or ‘irritable heart’. In 1890, all these were brought under an umbrella term ‘traumatic neuroses’.

After the First World War, it became pretty apparent that soldiers suffer from neurosis after returning from war. The major development made at this time, though, was that this traumatic neurosis was found in civilians as well. Many psychiatrists, who had worked with soldiers during the war, reported that the civilian patients had similar experiences post-war.

It still took time for people to understand that trauma, of any kind, could have a long lasting impact on individuals. It was only in DSM-III of the American Psychiatric Association that the name ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ (PTSD) was first used.

Living with PTSD

It was only a few years after the Vietnam War that PTSD caught the attention of the general public. There were many reports of soldiers suffering from insomnia, panic attacks and paranoia. The war in Vietnam had been a conflicted one in many aspects. There were questions about the necessity of the war and reports about violation of human rights by US Army didn’t help the American cause either. In the last stages of the war, even the soldiers were fed up of killing people they didn’t know, for reasons they weren’t told and for hardly getting the answers to their questions.

It is important that I stress on the fact that it isn’t only the soldiers who can suffer from PTSD. Victims of rape, armed robbery or kidnapping have been diagnosed with PTSD as well.


Like other mental illnesses, friends and family always play a huge role in recovery from PTSD. The sufferers must be encouraged to share their stories of the event. When they share those stories, we must lend them a compassionate ear.

Sometimes, an event changes our life forever. It is important that we help people regain the control over their life and live in a calm state of mind.


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