PTSD studies should focus on soldiers 'immune' to it as well as those afflicted


June 14, 2010

A continuing concern of the war in Afghanistan is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can affect (in varying degrees) from 12% to 30% of those who serve there.

All sorts of studies and assessments have been made of PTSD, looking back to past wars where the affliction was diagnosed as something else.

In the Second World War, severe cases were diagnosed as “shell shock,” while in lesser cases, where men at the front broke or couldn’t take it any more, it was often considered cowardice and, on occasion, led to firing squads.

At the beginning of the Second World War, what today would be viewed as PTSD was called LMF — Lack of Moral Fibre — and would forever taint a soldier’s reputation if it appeared on his record. Unwittingly cruel and wrong.

Later in the war when severe fighting led to more cases of PTSD, it was called “Battle Fatigue,” which had a certain respectability. “Battle Fatigue” also became fashionable to claim for those who wanted to avoid combat.

PTSD gained respectability when Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, after commanding UN troops during massacres in Rwanda, was diagnosed with it and contemplated suicide.

Generally considered an affliction that applies to soldiers, PTSD can also afflict police officers, firefighters, nurses and others exposed to horrific events — nasty murders and accidents.

It is accepted these days that soldiers cannot emotionally endure prolonged exposure to danger. At some point they will break. Gen. Sir William Slim, who commanded British troops in the Burma campaign of the Second World War, once remarked that the British soldier isn’t braver than other soldiers, he is just braver longer.

Front-line troops are periodically relieved of duty to get rest periods behind the lines.

PTSD is especially applicable to Afghanistan, where every venture “outside the wire” entails risk from roadside bombs — harder on the nerves than direct combat.

While studies of PTSD continue, why are there no studies of those subjected to high stress who do not come down with PTSD? Some soldiers seem immune to the affliction. Often they are depicted as gung-ho or neo-psychos, which is as unfair as labelling someone a coward who folds under pressure.

If soldiers are susceptible to PTSD, would it not be wise to understand and define those who are not likely to be PTSD casualties? Perhaps training or education could help make an individual less vulnerable to become a PTSD casualty.

A study of Victoria Cross winners has shown that a remarkable number came from families where the loss of a parent forced the recipient to take on added responsibilities at a young age.

Stubbornness and a sense of responsibility are threads linking VC winners. Many VC winners feel they were just doing their job — no big deal.

Gurkhas, arguably the world’s most lethal soldiers in battle, are gentle folk off the battlefield who like to smell the flowers. The late Charles Upham, the only “fighting” soldier to win the Victoria Cross twice, was in life a quiet New Zealand farmer with no hang-ups. VC winner Smokey Smith put the war behind him and lived a normal life.

Why do some avoid stress disorder, and others not? We don’t know.

A key factor among those seemingly immune to PTSD may be the ability to put horrific experiences behind them, to go on and not dwell on the past. Worriers tend to be more susceptible to PTSD than fatalists. Anyway, it is something that deserves more research.


Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre.


Suicides still appear to be the number one killer of veterans and most of those who kill themselves do so because of depression associated with a breakdown in the family relationship.

Its not just veterans, men faced with going to corrupt family courts know that they have no legal rights and under those circumstances they conclude that life is not worth living.

While we continue to have corrupt man hating judges and a society that deems men as second class citizens the problem will continue.