Shell Shock to PTSD

Mental-health war injury, from shell-shock to PTSD

Today, we honour all the men and women who have served their country in battle, many of whom have paid the ultimate sacrifice. While I always take the time to honour them all, I want to pay homage to those who weren’t only physically injured or killed trying to rid the world of human suffering at the hands of those who seek to destroy life.

 I want also to pause for a moment to think about those who have mental-war injuries that are not only painful beyond comprehension, but for some, last a lifetime. For these brave women and men, their battles are never over, their war within is never won. And, depending on the period, the mental injury has been called everthing from shell shock to PTSD.


Nowadays, this mental heath war injury is known as Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. It is well understood compared to when the symptoms of this mentalhealth condition were first observed by medical professionals during the first world war ; (The Canadian Encyclopedia) when thousands of soldiers were stricken with depression, insomnia and nightmares. By 1917 these symptoms would be given a name; Shell Shock. For a full list of symptoms go here


Charles Myers, a British medical officer, was the first to use this term for the symptoms he was witnessing, on and off the battlefield. These clusters of symptoms were also known as war neurosis, (Encyclopedia.com). I


Despite the fact that doctors of the day had ruled out shell shock as some sort of physical medical ailment and came to believe that it was psychiatric in nature, stigma still prevailed. As a result, the men who exhibited the signs of this condition were considered to be cowards, even being charged in a fake trial, found guilty of deserting the military and shot by their colleges. After the war, many more were committed to mental institutions and subjected to ETC, electroshock therapy, while many more were placed in solitary confinement as a treatment option.

By today’s standards, this approach to treatment is considered barberic. I would go so far as to say that it is these very sorts of atrocities people go to war to try and prevent. That being said, we have come a long way since the days of WWI, so far in fact, stigma seems like a minor itch today in comparison. There’s no doubt that things are so much better now.

But we must always remember that the internal torment of PTSD can not be minimized. Understand that our brave men and women who are wounded in this way live in a form of psychological solitary confinement and many are receiving only minimal treatment. Yet, many more veterans live life on the streets, a tragedy that’s made worse by government cutbacks to veterans’ support systems.

However, you brave warriors are not forgotten and I think about the sacrifices you have made and the suffering you continue to endure often. Thankfully, PTSD is more recognized and accepted today than it ever has been, and with that comes more empathy and support. Despite cutbacks, there are programs out there to try and help heal your injuries or at least make them more tolerable. There are support groups springing up full of people who understand your pain.

Again, thank you so much for your service. I am free because of you and I am grateful. Let me leave you with this short poem by Siegfried Sassoon, a World War One soldier and poet who suffered from the horrors of shell shock. This poem was inspired by his injury.

“Lest We Forget”


No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’—
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.


–Siegfried Sassoon, Craiglockhart. October 1917.
Source: BBC Home, Inside Out Extra: Wednesday, March 3, 2004, http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/extra/series-1/shell_shocked.shtml

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