By Michael Kanter | United States
Once soldiers go off to war, the focus shifts to the diagnosis of PTSD. Amongst other views on the subject during WWI, PTSD was not taken seriously by doctors performing diagnoses. The symptoms related to PTSD were widely misdiagnosed as the concussive effects of shells landing near soldiers and were often attributed to general insanity. However, after noticing similar symptoms from soldiers who had never been within range of artillery shells, they realized that there must be another cause.
By the time WWI ended, it was called Combat Stress Reaction (CSR) and was soon inducted into the brand new 1952 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which included a protocol to properly diagnose (and treat) CSR. In 1980, as a result of research on Vietnam War victims, holocaust survivors, and victims of sexual assault, the DSM created the diagnosis known as PTSD (Friedman).
Today, soldiers are regularly assessed for PTSD upon return from war, and can also be recommended for screening by commanding officers based on unusual behavior or other concerns. For someone to be diagnosed, however, there must be an identifiable “Stressor Criterion,” or a stressful event that one can link to the disorder (Friedman). This makes it harder to seek support since it can be difficult to identify one particular event as the cause.
Despite apparent improvements in the diagnosis of PTSD, there are still many roadblocks to fully address the problem. Firstly, the “toxic masculinity” that is often core to military culture creates a stigma around the diagnosis, and soldiers are often reluctant to properly describe their symptoms. In addition, many wish to avoid formal diagnosis because it might ruin their military career. Lastly, politicians are cost-averse when defining the levels of severity of PTSD for which government funding is available.
As with diagnosis, the treatment of PTSD has developed immensely over the past century. During WWI, treatment was virtually non-existent. In fact, when soldiers complained, doctors’ objective was to quickly and efficiently return them to the front lines (Reid). “Treatment“ options ranged from shaming the soldiers to electroshock therapy (“Shell Shock Through the Wars”).
However, today, with the abundance of new information and changes in social understanding, treatment has improved. The increased emphasis on the value of soldiers’ quality of life caused governments and corporations to invest in research for treatments. The government has a new framework of programs to help veterans suffering from PTSD, and has created an extensive guide to the disease designed for veterans, including coping strategies and useful resources accessible online. Canadian Armed Forces members are also offered therapy and counseling in order to help them cope with the PTSD.
Notably, 18% of all benefits received by veterans are for mental health conditions, and more Afghanistan veterans received benefits for PTSD support than any other ailment or disability (Veterans Affairs Canada, “Mental Health”). Programs, though, are criticised for long wait times; some veterans have had to wait as long as three months to get an appointment for PTSD diagnosis, during which time treatment was unavailable (Bogart).
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