The history of PTSD goes all the way back to 2100 B.C. – in one of the earliest works of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the main character experiences symptoms such as nightmares after witnessing the death of his best friend. It shows up later in Greek and Latin classics relating to after effects of battle, and can also be identified in Icelandic works.
PTSD is very embedded in war, as recounted by German, Swiss, Spanish and French physicians as early as the 1600’s whose patients described frightening nightmares, sleeplessness, despair and homesickness. The term “nostalgia” was coined to describe what all of these soldiers were experiencing.
Later on during the Civil War, the same types of symptoms were being reported by soldiers who went through incredible tragedy – the carnage and death that plagued the war was unlike any of the men had seen and many had difficulty letting the horror go. Many developed symptoms that included difficulty breathing, constricted chest and palpitations, which lead to the term “soldiers heart.”
The PTSD experienced by soldiers in World War I, or The Great War, was called “shell shock”. This term came about as what was though an accurate way to describe how soldiers were affected by the massive amount of shelling during the war – they exhibited tremors, difficulties with hearing and sight, and of course the nightmares. Later on, physicians treated hundreds of former soldiers who were never near any shelling, thus leading to another term that was started during World War II, “combat fatigue.”
PTSD doesn’t result from just war – it can come about from a drastic change in life, such as divorce, illness, or a world event. We are living in a time where people we know and love may be very sick or have died, and our entire way of life has been upended in order to protect ourselves and society from this deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Constant worrying about staying safe, remaining employed, postponing major life plans and curbing freedoms most of us took for granted – grocery shopping, dining out, attending public events, exercising outside – has resulted in adults and children alike suffering from anxiety, depression, nightmares, sleeplessness and a myriad of other PTSD symptoms. Those who have been hospitalized, many on ventilators, experience feelings of helplessness, despair and even feeling like they’re drowning. Many of the adults are the frontline health workers who have witnessed first-hand the absolute horrors of this virus, and are plagued by feelings of guilt, sadness and even suicidal thoughts.
Hospitals are gearing up for treating the incoming flux of those currently and who will be experiencing PTSD symptoms. The government is stepping up as well to contribute to some of the hardest-hit areas.
As an individual, what can you do to help yourself and those you care for as it pertains to PTSD? First and foremost, pay attention to how your feeling and try to identify signs that you may be suffering from stress. There are many different therapies, treatments and destressing techniques that you can try, including working with a therapist, meditation, medication, yoga, acupuncture and others. If you notice that a friend or family member don’t seem like themselves, attempt to have a conversation with them to see if they might need assistance. Above all else, give yourself grace in that you may experience lasting negative effects for years to come from living during a pandemic, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.