PTSD has a much longer history than you’d think. From references in the Bible, ancient Greek literature, and elsewhere, the effects of psychological trauma have been well documented. Knowing the history of PTSD and getting the facts can help recognize symptoms you may experience and learn how to treat them.
What Is Ptsd
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder frequently found in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a severe accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or who’ve been endangered with death sexual violence, or severe injury. It’s a serious medical problem that affects millions of people worldwide regardless of gender or age. Still, its symptoms can be managed with different kinds of treatment or medication.
The History Of Ptsd
The mental health condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a household name in America, thanks to its – until recently – mostly negative depiction in popular media such as movies, books, television programs, and news stories. For decades, it was inextricably linked to U.S. combat veterans beset by psychological problems after returning to their civilian lives and being unable to cope with the stressors of everyday society.
The history of PTSD officially began in 1980 with its first appearance in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, third edition (DSM-lll) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Collectively, many people believe it’s solely associated with America’s legacy of fighting in Vietnam. But mental health issues that eventually coalesced into post-traumatic stress disorder have been around a long time.
PTSD in antiquity
According to the historical record, humanity’s conflicts with one another have often taken on a psychological component, with as many wounds inflicted on a man’s psyche as his body. In the King James Version of the Bible, Deuteronomy 20:1-9, there is an explicit mention of soldiers needing to be removed from the battlefield due to a nervous breakdown – then thought to be contagious.
- The Battle of Gilgamesh provides explicit descriptions of love and what today would be recognized as symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder – grief, fear, panic, personality changes, temporary blindness. And all documented as far back as 440 B.C. in the battle of Marathon by Herodotus.
- Seeing a comrade killed in battle and desperately trying to block out recurring visions of death was recounted in terrifying combat scenes depicted by Hippocrates (4607-377 B.C.) and Lucretius’ poem De Rerum Natura, written in 50 B.C.
Unfortunately, soldiers who were ravaged psychologically in battle hundreds of years ago didn’t have the advantage of advanced medical and psychiatric treatment, which today includes psychotherapy and medicine like ketamine.
While PTSD officially appeared in the psychiatric lexicon in 1980, it’s not a stretch to say that people in ancient Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and elsewhere had a pretty good idea of what they were dealing with – even without the benefit of modern medicine.
- During the Hundred Years ‘ War, PTSD-like symptoms even got mentioned by Jean Froissart centuries later, pitting England against France, and again more prominently in William Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet.
It’s almost guaranteed that mental health issues triggered by the horrors of death on battlefields worldwide have been part of the human condition since our ancestors first walked upright.
In modern times, symptoms of PTSD have earned colorful nicknames that are remembered more than a hundred years later. During World War I, PTSD was known as “shell shock” due to the soldiers’ psychological wounds after mass artillery attacks. After subsequent wars, posttraumatic stress disorder earned colorful nicknames like “soldier’s heart,” “combat fatigue,” and “war neurosis.”
Diagnosis & Treatment
To be diagnosed, PTSD symptoms must be present for at least a month and seriously interfere with a person’s ability to function daily. For diagnosis, your healthcare provider may:
- Perform a physical exam to check for medical problems which could trigger symptoms
- Do a psychological assessment that includes discussing your symptoms and what may have led to them
- Compare symptoms to the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, your healthcare provider will recommend a different treatment. This could include psychotherapy or medicine like ketamine.
Symptoms of PTSD or another disorder can have terrible consequences on your life if ignored. Don’t wait until seeking professional medical care if you experience symptoms like avoidance, flashbacks, or negative thoughts. A doctor or therapist specializing in mental illness can best diagnose what’s going on and recommend the appropriate treatment.