Brief History of PTSD

This article on the Department of Veterans Affairs webpage gives a brief history of PTSD. The article states that PTSD may well have been a part of human experience since prehistoric times, but it was not until the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) that physicians first made a systematic attempt to understand the damaging psychological effects of war. Civil War veterans with PTSD-like symptoms were said to suffer from “irritable heart,” which was characterized by “rapid pulse, anxiety and trouble breathing”; or “Da Costa’s Syndrome,” which was characterized by heart problems. Something akin to PTSD was known as “shell shock” in WWI and “battle fatigue” (later combat stress reaction) in WWII. However, it was not until 1980 with the introduction of DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition) that the modern conception of PTSD was offered as a diagnosis. PTSD was formulated as a response to the large number of Vietnam veterans who suffered from combat trauma as well as studies of Holocaust survivors. The four factors that characterize PTSD today are: “reliving the traumatic event”; “avoiding situations that are a reminder of the event”; negative changes in beliefs or feelings,” and being in a state of hyper-arousal or “over-reactive in situations.” With the introduction of the DSM-5, PTSD is shown to be a relatively common disorder (4% of American men and 10% of American women will experience it in their lifetime). Additionally, it is no longer considered an anxiety disorder, but is in a new group of disorders called “Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders.”