Shell Shock in WWI

Shell Shock in WWI - Kokkinis 1 Chris Kokkinis ENG 345...

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Kokkinis 1 Chris Kokkinis ENG 345 December 7, 2006 Final Research Paper Shell Shock and Trauma: A History of the Mental Disorder The early twentieth century was full of excitement on a global scale. In 1914, war erupted on French soil that was to be “the war to end all wars.” However, this war, which killed more people than any other war, accomplished very little aside from causing yet another World War only a few decades later. The horrific nature of trench warfare contributed not only to physical wounds, but mental ones as well. The term “shell shock” came about, describing soldiers whose behavior became seriously disturbed as a result of sitting through constant shelling bombardments from opposing trenches. Life inside the trenches seemed to have an extremely damaging effect on the psyche of those who participated in the war. Such victims of World War I spawned a slow, yet revolutionary progression in human psychology. In 1980, leading psychologists gave this mental condition the official name “Post- traumatic Stress Disorder” (or PTSD). Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as, “a debilitating psychological condition triggered by a major traumatic event, such as rape, war, a terrorist act, death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a catastrophic event”(Longe 1). PTSD can be identified by observing patients with distressing memories of the traumatic event, extreme personality shifts, and being more overly- reactive to common events or stimuli (Longe 1). The study of the effects of trauma actually began in the latter half of the nineteenth century; a German doctor by the name of Erichsen began to form a hypothesis that physical injury and mental hysteria were
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Kokkinis 2 somehow related. In 1886, after studying survivors of a train crash, Erichsen noticed that several subjects that had suffered spinal damage as a result of the crash began to show very noticeable changes in their personalities and emotional responses. He, despite much debate over whether or not there was any truth to this, believed that the accident, injury, and personality changes were all interconnected with each other (Yule 117). Although Erichsen’s hypothesis was groundbreaking, it failed to address how soldiers during World War I, that did not suffer any physical wounds, could also suffer from the effects of shell shock and combat trauma. By the end of the war, there had been a growing acceptance that psychological aspects of trench warfare could be a direct cause of post-traumatic stress. By the 1940s, German psychologist Kardiner proposed that shell shock was caused by the extreme switch from one environment to another. The innate adaptive qualities of survival in normal society become worthless in extreme situations such as trench war. This, according to Kardiner, led to a feeling of helplessness and inability to protect one’s self in certain soldiers. This learned helplessness forced soldiers to cope with their situation in extreme ways that reflect the symptoms of shell shock
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Shell Shock in WWI - Kokkinis 1 Chris Kokkinis ENG 345...

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