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“Traumatic Hysteria” No More: How PTSD Became a Medical Diagnosis

More than 3,000 years ago, ancient soldiers in Mesopotamia thought they were being haunted by ghosts, but what they were really experiencing was post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. PTSD affects soldiers and civilians alike in that they experience intrusive symptoms after witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event. It took hundreds of years for the medical community to recognize the physical and mental health effects of going through a traumatic event.

Early Accounts of PTSD

Early accounts of PTSD go as far back as 490 B.C. when Herodotus described an Athenian soldier who went blind after witnessing the Battle of Marathon. In the tales of Henry IV, Lady Percy described her husband experiencing sleeplessness and not be able to enjoy life after fighting a battle. It was not until the 1880s that psychiatrists connected these symptoms to the brain.

At the time, women who spoke about these symptoms were labeled with “hysteria” that supposedly arose from the uterus. When French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot saw similar symptoms in men, the term “traumatic hysteria” was born.

World War I and II

Thousands of World War I soldiers experienced mental symptoms like facial tics and not being able to speak, leaving them “shell-shocked.” By World War II, it was recognized that combat could cause soldiers to be prone to anxiety and other “neurotic tendencies.” Twice as many American soldiers were facing trauma compared to the last war.

Military officials believed that removing men from combat situations or treating them with injections of drugs like sodium amytal would relieve their symptoms. Unfortunately, according to National Geographic, over 1.4 million men were treated for PTSD symptoms, with 40% of them discharged from the military.

Post-Vietnam Syndrome

In 1952, the American Psychological Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Veterans’ symptoms were categorized under disorders like depression or schizophrenia instead of being given their own diagnosis.

“Post-Vietnam Syndrome” was coined in 1972 by psychiatrist Chaim Shatan for Vietnam veterans who returned home with emotional numbness, flashbacks, and rage. Because of delayed symptoms, Vietnam veterans often had trouble accessing treatment and benefits.

In 1980, PTSD finally became a formal diagnosis in the DSM’s third edition and was adopted in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. Today, these invisible wounds are no longer considered invisible, and PTSD is a classified mental health disorder with a variety of treatment options.

Every day, The Guest House helps men and women recover from PTSD and other trauma. Our licensed and certified treatment team is ready to provide you with clinically-studied, effective therapies that are tailored to your experience. At The Guest House, we believe that sharing your story can help you heal — and we are here to listen. To learn more, call us today at (855) 483-7800.