PTSD – A 1917 perspective

shell-shock“Tramps, ne’er do wells and criminals”

During World War I medical authorities in Britain described the condition of men suffering from their war experiences as “Not yet diagnosed – nervous” or NYD-N. They divided these cases into “neurasthenia” and “hysteria”. Neurasthenia seemed to occur…

among officers and was treated with rest, recreation, and a period away from the front. Hysteria seemed to occur among the lower ranks.

The term was also used to describe women who were consigned to workhouses, paralyzed or mute, and, according to the authorities, used their hysteria as a reason not to work.

Prominent Canadian physician and medical historian Andrew Macphail, who was knighted for literary acumen and his service to Queen and country would soon after the war define shell shock in men who had experienced combat as a “manifestation of childishness and femininity.”

As that war was drawing to a close, Canada’s militia Minister Sir Edward Kemp convened a panel of medical experts who viewed men with psychological trauma as “Individuals of a constitutionally inferior type (who) will form a class of tramps, ne’er do wells and criminals that history shows has always followed a war.”

The Great War’s greatest poet, combat veteran Wilfred Owen, offered a different perspective on war and madness  in his 1917 poem, Mental Cases:

For an sharp satire of the changes in the labeling of the effects of fighting in a war, tune in to the late comedian and social critic George Carlin.