Monday, April 21, 2014

Study: Mental Trauma Led to Illness in Civil War Troops


Mental trauma led to physical disease among American Civil War veterans, according to a study appearing in the current issue of the "Archives of General Psychiatry" magazine. Scientists found that younger and more traumatized soldiers had much higher rates of illness later in life. Michelle Trudeau reports on the study, and how the findings could apply to today's veterans.

This is DAY TO DAY.
Now a story that never ends, that of the American Civil War. There's a new study about it appearing in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. It finds that the Civil War had affects on the physical and mental health of veterans throughout their lifetimes. Michelle Trudeau reports.

General William Tecumseh Sherman seems to have predicted the findings of this study when he famously declared, War is hell. Now research psychologist Roxanne Cohen Silver has investigated whether the degree of hellish trauma that a soldier experienced can be linked to increased health problems. She examined the military records of over 15,000 union soldiers, records which give details as to whether a soldier had been wounded or had been a prisoner of war, also the number of deaths in each combat company. During the Civil War many company members came from the same town or even family, and so tabulating deaths in each company indicates the amount of intimate violence that a soldier may have been exposed to, says Silver.

Dr. ROXANNE COHEN SILVER (Professor, UC Irvine): It would represent the numbers of dead bodies that he witnessed, dismembered bodies and dying individuals. And it also represented undoubtedly the degree of loss or bereavement that they had encountered in the war.

TRUDEAU: These 15,000 military records are kept by the National Archives, which also has each soldier's medical records.

Dr. SILVER: We obtained the medical records from the time that they discharged until they died.

TRUDEAU: Available thanks to the life-long relationship between Civil War vets and the federal government.

Dr. SILVER: In order to receive a pension after the Civil War, the veterans would have to go to pension board physicians which were military physicians. And in order to be classified as having a particular ailment, three physicians had to agree on a diagnosis. So these records are remarkably complete, remarkably thorough, and remarkably reliable.

TRUDEAU: When the researchers from the University of California Irvine matched a soldier's military record with his life-long medical records, some strong connections emerged.

Dr. SILVER: The more traumatic the experiences that the soldier encountered in the war, the more likely he was to have physical health ailments and mental health ailments.

TRUDEAU: A 50 percent greater chance of cardiovascular disease, or gastrointestinal problems, and a similar increase in mental health problems, such as depression. The horrors of war, though, had the most brutal impact on young soldiers, enlistees as young as nine years old.

Dr. SILVER: Those who were youngest when they were enlisted had a 93 percent increased risk of developing signs of physical and mental health problems.

TRUDEAU: And these youngest vets also died at a significantly younger age than vets who had been older when they enlisted. Roger Pitman, a research psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, says he's intrigued by this finding because we know, he says, that youngsters have immature nervous systems.

Professor ROGER PITMAN (Research Psychiatrist, Harvard Medical School): Adolescents or even children who have incomplete brain development might not be able to handle the emotional stress of combat as well as persons past their adolescence where their brains are more-or-less completely developed.

TRUDEAU: The bottom line, Pitman adds, is that war has extracted similar costs from veterans of every era.

For NPR News, I'm Michelle Trudeau.

Image: Indiana Hospital for the Insane, Indianapolis, Indiana


Post a Comment


Facebook Twitter Delicious Stumbleupon Favorites