Alberta professor hopes World War One records will help in study of post-traumatic stress

CALGARY - The battlefield has changed over the last 100 years but one fact remains: war is still hell for many soldiers, especially those who return home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

 


CALGARY - The battlefield has changed over the last 100 years but one fact remains: war is still hell for many soldiers, especially those who return home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

Mark Humphries, a history professor at Calgary's Mount Royal College, plans to study the effects of what was then called "shell shock" on First World War soldiers after they returned to Canada.

He said many of the symptoms - sleeplessness, irritability and nightmares - were recorded in admission discharge books nearly a century ago.

"Afghanistan is a far different war today for the soldiers who are fighting it yet we're seeing the same types of stress injuries, the same types of things happening to soldiers when they're getting home," said Humphries, 28.

"I think it reminds us that war is an inherently traumatic experience and we should be very careful when we send our soldiers to war because this is what happens."

Humphries has received a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research council of Canada worth $38,000 and will use it to collect data from Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. The information is not part of privacy laws that would apply to veterans from the Second World War or Korea.

Preliminary research has shown there were some returning veterans who spent the rest of their lives in hospital until the mid-1960s, reliving the war over and over again.

"Those who were traumatized by war - the war doesn't end for them."

It's possible that the effects of post-traumatic stress can become a problem years after a soldier leaves the military he said and they may not be eligible for any kind of government help or a pension.

Humphries said not enough is known about the disorder and his three-year study could identify a need to expand the pension criteria for returning military personnel.

"If you look at Canada's pension regulations today, what they essentially say is to be a pensionable illness for something to be treatable or to be considered a disability it has to be traced back to service," Humphries explained.

"The danger is how do you do that for mental illness - especially ones that appear 10 or 15 years after combat service might have ended."

The House of Commons defence committee has challenged the leadership of the Canadian Forces to wipe away the stigma associated with mental-health issues and encourage troubled soldiers to come forward. National Defence is asking outside organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mental Health Commission of Canada help the military address the issue of stress disorders.

"The estimates today are 15 to 30 per cent of soldiers will suffer from something like PTSD - anxiety, depression. If you consider we may have as many as 65,000 soldiers who have served in Afghanistan by the time the mission ends, that's a huge number of people," said Humphries.

"We need to understand that 10 or 15 years from now there are going to be soldiers that are breaking down, who never broke down in combat and were deemed to be OK and we have to ask as a society what our obligation is to our soldiers."

Canada has 2,700 troops serving in Kandahar province.

 
 
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