Health Media Ltd
Thursday, February 20, 2003
Health Media Ltd
The findings, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, suggest that some characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be culturally influenced.
Using historical medical records and war pension files of soldiers who had fought in wars since 1854, Dr Edgar Jones from the GKT School of Medicine in London and colleagues examined whether the symptoms associated with PTSD existed before psychiatrists recognised it as a formal disorder in the late 20th century.
Specifically, the team compared the incidence of reported flashbacks - a core symptom of PTSD - among 1,856 UK servicemen involved in combat in the Victorian campaigns (1854-1895), the Boer War (1899-1902), the First World War (1914-1918), World War II (1939-1945), Malaya (1948-1960), Korea (1951-1953), and the Gulf war (1991).
Because the term "flashback" is relatively modern, the researchers looked for post-combat disorders that typified particular conflicts, such as "disordered action of the heart" for the Boer War and shellshock for the First World War.
They found that flashbacks were virtually non-existent before the First World War and were still rare during World War II (five cases). However, the incidence rose significantly after the Gulf war (36 cases).
The team argues that, if PTSD had always existed, then veterans of earlier wars - many of whom had been exposed to prolonged stress - should also have shown symptoms of the disorder.
The researchers conclude that their findings support the idea that some of the characteristics of PTSD are culture-related.
"There is no single way for human beings to respond to war, and the concept of a universal trauma reaction' appears flawed," they write. "We suggest that PTSD is one more phase in the continually evolving picture of human reaction to adversity."
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