Shell Shock

A Somme Church

A Somme Church


“Shell shock” was beginning to be identified in soldiers at this time.  Men with psychological symptoms became commonplace in the extended hell of the trenches. 

During the Great War, shell shock was thought to be caused by pressure waves from exploding artillery impacting the brain. Thus, a shell “shocked” the outer cerebral cortex, causing little hemorrhages or bleeding within the skull. This injury was thought to induced the soldier’s psychological symptoms.

It made some clinical sense but was not the actual cause that we know of today.

The shell shock diagnosis was used in before Freud had formulated and disseminated many of his theories on psychiatry. The idea that a psychological experience could cause trauma had not been widely accepted. 

In World War Two, the term shell shock was changed to “battle fatigue.”  The idea of a psychological basis for physical symptoms was gaining ground as thousands of men succumbed in that war.  But few doctors readily embraced it. 

Most recently, the condition became known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Sustained psychological pressure can cause physical and emotional symptoms in any human being.  No matter how tough a man thinks he is, everyone has a breaking point.

The Bantams transported many cases of shell shock.  It is know believed soldiers subjected to more than 100 days of sustained combat would, more often than not, develop some symptoms of PTSD.  Types and duration of symptoms are highly variable including anxiety, disrupted sleep, loss of appetite, depression,  fear responses, isolation and even hallucinations. 

Many soldiers afflicted in WWI responded favorably to food and rest, and subsequently recovered.  Others would not–no matter what the treatment.  Severely disabled men were evacuated to hospitals behind the lines or to England.

My  grandfather had PTSD from the Great War. Seeing so much death and destruction took part of his life away.  He could no longer stand the sight of blood. He could not go back to medical school after the war. He was plagued by nightmares and depression for his entire life.   But now there are much better treatments available for those afflicted..
There is no shame. Everyone has a limit to the amount of grief he or she can absorb.



For more information the National Center for PTSD in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can be found at: or

Many other local resources are available for treating PTSD.  If you are a veteran or believe you might have PTSD, use Google to search for help in your area.

Enter PTSD, (Your location) to search. For example, PTSD, Phoenix

Never give up!

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