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Falklands memoirs offer fresh view of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The return home from war is often the beginning of a whole new battle for soldiers and can trigger exactly the traumatic reactions to war they hope to escape, suggests a new study of the Falklands War on the eve of its 30th anniversary (2 April).

Historian Dr Lucy Robinson, who lectures in modern British history at Sussex, analysed Falklands War memoirs to gain insights into the soldiers’ experience of conflict. She concludes that personal histories can complement scientific understanding of the causes of the distressing, debilitating condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD (referred to generally in previous conflicts as ‘shell shock’ or ‘battle fatigue’) had been identified as a diagnosable condition affecting soldiers just prior to the Falklands War.

Dr Robinson’s study, to be published in the Journal of War and Culture Studies, compared the soldiers’ descriptions of their individual experiences with the standard scientific model of PTSD.

Her historical analysis found that the memoirs highlighted:

  • Camaraderie – the group relationship arising out of a sense of shared experience of combat – which offers a defence against the traumatic impact of combat;
  • Homecoming – how the challenges of trying to adjust to normal everyday life, work and relationships can trigger PTSD if the individual is isolated from and does not have the support of the group or access to the shared rituals and routines that helped to keep combat stress at bay;
  • Isolation and shunning – leading to feelings of alienation and humiliation. Writers recount, for example, being asked not to wear their uniforms in civilian hospitals and being hidden from view at public ceremonies;
  • Lack of resources - for those suffering long-term psychiatric reactions to some of the fiercest battles of the campaign – Goose Green and Mount Longdon.

Dr Robinson says: “Veterans’ memoirs show that combat trauma is something experienced at a group level and therefore needs to be alleviated at a group level. Groups and individuals rely on each other’s resilience to resist the negative effects of PTSD.

“Examination of the narratives of Falklands soldiers can add to our understanding of PTSD and should form part of the ongoing dialogue of how best to deal with it in future.”

The research article arose out of collaboration with Sussex neurobiologist Dr Sarah King for a University of Sussex-funded project called ‘Translate Trauma’. The project brought together historians, neuroscientists and Falklands veteran writers and artists to examine the relationship between veterans’ descriptions of combat trauma and scientific and historical explanations of trauma.

Dr Robinson is currently working on a Mass Observation project examining public attitudes to war and is writing a book on the cultural and social history of 1980s Britain.

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Posted on behalf of: Department of History
Last updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2012


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