The trauma of war

It seems that, despite all hopes to the contrary, we are ever more embroiled in war. And while physical casualties are often thoroughly reported, what commonly goes unreported are the emotional and mental effects which also carry the potential to devastate lives.

In recent years, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has received a lot of attention because of its relationship to survivors of dysfunctional families of origin. But, in fact, the condition was originally identified among survivors of war.

The term ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ first appeared in the literature in 1980. When the DSM-III (third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was revised in the mid-1980s, the experiences of soldiers returning from the Vietnam War led to a more in-depth investigation of the concept and resulted in its inclusion in the manual.

Earlier descriptive accounts of stress-related disorders are emphatically linked to the history of war. The horrors of trench warfare during World War I and consequent psychological sequelae preceded the concept of ‘shell shock’ – which is, effectively, PTSD.

Fast-forward to the present day, and research among return soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq suggests that up to 20% are likely to manifest symptoms of PTSD after they return from combat. Estimates of depression range between 3 and 25%.

We should not be surprised. Combat stressors, which include seeing dead bodies, being shot at, being attacked or ambushed, experiencing rocket or mortar fire, watching a friend being killed or seriously wounded, or oneself being seriously injured, cannot help but cause distress. Arguably, the very nature of the combat experience, no matter how well trained or prepared a soldier is, can do little but lead to a profound shift in the mental, emotional and overall psychological, landscape of the individual.

The National Center for PTSD, a division of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, notes that risk factors for developing the condition include longer deployment, more intense exposure to combat stressors, more severe physical injury, lower rank, lower level of education, female gender and not being married.

Against this backdrop, Dr Robin Lawrence, owner and founder of 96 Harley Psychotherapy and Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist of many decades’ standing, is heading to the Ukraine in May to deliver training to staff at the Irpin Hospital. The programme will focus on the diagnosis and management of PTSD. With war in the Ukraine now a reality, this is important work. Dr Lawrence is pleased to be able to lend his support to the rehabilitation of soldiers in the region.

If you would like to find out more about PTSD or to speak to Dr Lawrence about his upcoming mission, please contact us here. And if you have experience of combat-related PTSD, we’d also love to hear from you.

Written by Jacqui Hogan