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Published On July 21, 2010

CLINICAL RESEARCH

PTSD Timeline: Centuries of Trauma

A brief history of the observation and study of PTSD

 

THE GRANGER COLLECTION

5th c. B.C.

Herodotus tells of a Spartan commander who excused soldiers who, though of proven bravery, were “out of heart and unwilling to encounter the danger.” Herodotus also mentions a soldier—called “The Trembler”—who hanged himself.

 

 

 

JOHN HAYLS/BRIDGEMAN ART COLLECTION

1666

After surviving the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys describes experiencing, and noticing in fellow Londoners, what appear to be classic PTSD symptoms: sleeplessness and anxiety.

 

 

 

THE GRANGER COLLECTION

1860s

Thousands of Union Civil War combat veterans are hospitalized with “nostalgia,” a despondent, depressed state resulting from severe homesickness intensified by the stresses of military life.

 

 

THE GRANGER COLLECTION

1866

The New York Times reports a new disorder, “railway spine.” A passenger “gets out with...his body unbruised, and his mind unconscious of any disorder beyond a general weakness and confusion, which he sets down vaguely to a shock to the system, while his friends charitably attribute it to excessive fright.”

 

 

 

OTIS ARCHIVES/FLICKR

1914–1918

More than 300 British soldiers, many suffering from “shell shock,” are executed for cowardice. In 2006 the United Kingdom grants the soldiers posthumous pardons.

 

 

 

SUPERSTOCK

1943

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, visiting wounded soldiers in a hospital in Sicily, asks one to describe his injuries. “It’s my nerves,” the soldier replies. Patton slaps him across the face and calls him a coward.

 

 

 

ISTOCK

1979

Eight years after it was first proposed (and after being killed several times), Sen. Alan Cranston’s bill creating outreach centers for Vietnam veterans suffering from psychological problems related to their service is passed by Congress.

 

 

 

APA

1980

The American Psychiatric Association, in the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, recognizes PTSD as a disorder, replacing disorders related to specific traumas.

 

 

 

 

1989

Congress establishes the National Center for PTSD within the Department of Veterans Affairs. Spread among seven “academic centers of excellence” around the country, the unit is charged with promoting research and better education about PTSD.

 

 

VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

2008

A landmark study by the RAND Corporation estimates that 300,000 of the 1.64 million U.S. service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan may suffer from PTSD or depression—and that far too few are getting effective treatment.