A Look into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of Post 9/11 War Veterans Anthropology 469M- 0101
University of Maryland
May 13, 2014
A Look into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of Post 9/11 War Veterans The United States averages a major war or conflict every twenty years. Wars involve pain, suffering, injuries and death to both conflicting parties. Soldiers often come home to lost limbs and lost friendships. But a new kind of suffering has been prevalent in soldiers since the start of war, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is an invisible illness that affects a person’s mental state after being exposed to a traumatic or near fatal incident. It is important to note that PTSD doesn’t just affect soldiers. Anyone can be impacted by PTSD. Humans involved in car accidents, witnessing death, being in natural disasters, or even hearing a traumatic event can cause PTSD. In this paper, I will explore the history, the sociocultural context, the significance and stigma, and the impact of culture on PTSD in American Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers. By definition “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event” (APA, 2000). PTSD is diagnosed used the Diagnostic Statistics Manual (DSM). To summarize the diagnosis, “Diagnostic criteria for PTSD include a history of exposure to a traumatic event meeting two criteria and symptoms from each of three symptom clusters: intrusive recollections, avoidant/numbing symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms” (APA, 2000). Most importantly, diagnosing PTSD takes over a month and final diagnosis isn’t reached until after six months. This means that a person can experience these symptoms for up to a month without being diagnosed. History
The history of PTSD can date back to pre- industrial times. But, it most notably came to age in the 20th century. During World War I, this mental condition was known as shell shock. Army doctors realized that this was an illness in soldiers that needed a solution fast. Often times, it would cripple a soldier leading him off the battlefield and sent home. Soldiers named and defined the term themselves. The symptoms were fatigue, tremor, confusion, nightmares, and impaired sight and hearing. Doctors diagnosed shell shock when a soldier was unable to function and nothing appeared to be wrong physically. The “shell shock” diagnosis was initially reserved for conditions that follow a concussive shock delivered by high explosives to the head or spine (Young, 1995). Sadly, shell shock was considered cowardly (Young, 1995). It was a debatable illness and highly stigmatized disease because soldiers are supposed to be tough. In WWII, American physiatrist gave shell shock a new name, battle fatigue. This new name for shell shock was still not universally accepted. Leaders of the American Army still showed no sympathy for this mental illness. The general consensus was that if the soldiers aren’t physically injured then they need to get out of the hospital and return to war. But in 1946, the National Mental Health Act was passed. This provided expansion of mental health facilities in America for veterans. Most notably, the Veteran Affairs (VA) hospitals mostly cared for battle fatigued soldiers (Young, 1995). During the Vietnam War, the DSM-II was released. The DSM- II literally had no diagnosis for combat stress even though the DSM- I had “gross distress disorder”. The Vietnam War was the first time the U.S. tested the strategy of twelve month deployments. In earlier wars, soldiers didn’t return home from war until the war was over. This was the reason PTSD had such a delayed onset (Meagher). Vietnam veterans returning home from war found it impossible to seek medical care from the Veteran Affairs office due to this (Meagher, 2007). The...
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