Mental Health at War

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that, at war, "10% of the people who experience traumatic events will have serious mental health problems and another 10% will develop behaviour that will hinder their ability to function effectively. The most common conditions are depression, anxiety and psychosomatic problems such as insomnia, or back and stomach aches". The involvement of psychiatrists and psychologists in military conflicts not only led to the substantial development of expertise in war-related syndromes, but it also affected the development of the entire discipline of psychiatry.

Modern mental health care has been shaped by the new perspectives that were developed as a result of war.

In Canada, it is estimated that up to 10% of war zone Veterans will go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while others may experience at least some of the symptoms associated with this condition. PTSD is not the only problem that veterans might develop after experiencing a trauma. People can develop other symptoms like depression and anxiety.

The symptoms of PTSD can be intrusive symptoms (having nightmares and distressing memories), avoidance symptoms (Detaching from loved ones and losing interest), and some are arousal symptoms(feeling angry and jumpy). Depression is usually associated with guilt. Unfortunately many veterans experience guilt, shame and remorse. The "kill or be killed" attitude of war results in many of these feelings and negative thoughts . Depression symptoms include suicidal thoughts, swings in sleep hours, feeling down, and loss of sexual interest. Anxiety is the state of worry and its symptoms , in themselves, can be frightening. Anxiety symptoms include shaking, muscle tension, sweating, panic and the fear of going crazy.

Here are some other coping strategies:

  • Finding a support system in the community
  • Eating well & exercising regularly
  • Taking responsibility for your illness and learning about PTSD
  • Getting enough rest and developing a routine
  • Setting small goals and priorities
  • Finding a therapist you feel comfortable with
  • Remembering that you’re not alone

Here are some resources :
World Health Organization, World health report 2001, Mental health: new understanding, new hope (Geneva: Switzerland; 2001) Harrison Mark, Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)