Stress of battle is written in the histories of war

February 26, 1991|By Gerri Kobren

In hindsight, it's tempting to think we should have known 20 years ago that PTSD was not a weird new disease born in southeast Asia. Unnamed until recently, it's been recognized at least as far back as Shakespeare, according to Baltimore psychiatrist Alan Peck.

In "Henry IV, Part I," Lady Percy complained to her husband, Hotspur, about his pallor, his melancholy, his sleep disturbed by dreams of war so frightening "that beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow."

The English diarist Samuel Pepys also recorded nightmares and other sleeping difficulties after the London fire of 1666, Dr. Peck said, and Charles Dickens, describing himself as weak and not quite well months after a railroad accident, was never able to ride a train again.

The Civil War, the World Wars and the Korean War all levied a post-traumatic toll, as combatants came home with disorders titled "soldier's heart," "shell-shock" or "combat fatigue."

The problem was partially recognized in 1952, when the American Psychiatric Association listed "gross stress reaction" in the first edition of the "DSM," which is the diagnostic manual.

In the second edition of the "DSM," published in 1968, it was

called "adjustment reaction of adult life," and finally, in the

"DSM-III," published in 1980, "post-traumatic stress disorder" was fully described.

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