Not All Wounds Are Visible
By Keri Giannotti, Museum Educator
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either by experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
National PTSD Awareness Day is celebrated annually on June 27th. The first National PTSD Awareness Day was established by Congress in 2010. The National Center for PTSD has designated the entire month of June as PTSD Awareness Month to raise public awareness about the disorder, to educate a wide audience about PTSD, and to provide people with PTSD proper treatment.
According to Dr. Paula P. Schurr, the Executive Director of the National Center for PTSD, this month “Will help Veterans and others recognize symptoms and seek and obtain needed care.”
PTSD has been known by many names. As early as the American Civil War it was identified as “nostalgia,” “Soldier’s heart,” or “irritable heart.” Those titles were replaced by “Shell Shock” after World War I. This term was coined in reference to the condition emerging from the sounds of artillery shells being fired. When similar conditions were experienced by men who were not exposed to explosions, the condition was renamed “War Neuroses.” Doctors treated it by suggesting rest and relaxation. In severe cases, hydro or electro therapy were implemented.
World War II saw “War Neuroses” replaced with “Combat Stress Reaction” or “Battle Fatigue.” Attention for the condition grew as a result of the 1951 film, The Red Badge of Courage. Eventually, military discharges were granted with combat exhaustion being the reason. The understanding of treatment gradually improved in the sense that there was a priority to getting treatment as soon as possible with the realization that you can not simply “patch up” a soldier and send him back out to battle. There was also a surge of support and camaraderie amongst soldiers to help with recovery. However, with the positive change comes the negative blowback, as George S. Patton is famously known to have believed and stated that “Battle Fatigue” was not a true condition and simply the weakness of his soldiers.
It was not until 1962 when the American Psychiatric Association produced the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and included a condition that resembled PTSD as we know it today. As a result from research with Vietnam Veterans, Holocaust Survivors, and others in 1980, PTSD was officially added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These studies linked the trauma of war and its effects post-military life.
The National Center for PTSD cites common symptoms as reliving the instigating event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and feeling “keyed up”. You may also feel guilt, shame, or depression. Many people with PTSD abuse alcohol and drugs in search of refuge or relief from reliving the traumatic experience and its effects.
Proper treatment can help. The coping skills one can learn in treatment extend to improving other areas of life as well. Treatments include psychotherapy and medication. The Veterans Administration has more than 200 specialized programs for the treatment of PTSD. In 1989, the VA’s National Center for PTSD was created.
The Educational Mission of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation is “to remember, to honor, to heal.” We are a firm believers in the healing powers of the Memorial. Our commitment to the healing power of Memorials is seen in the Women Veterans Mediation Garden in 2001. This garden is a lasting tribute to the thousand of women, both military and civilian, who served during the Vietnam Era and continue to serve today.
We hope you will experience the healing power of our Memorial and the conversations about the war and its aftermath with our Vietnam Veteran Tour Guides during on of our tours.