Originally posted 2017-05-10 20:05:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
In late 1917, a British woman named Elizabeth Huntley decapitated her own daughter. When the case went to trial, her friends and family testified that she had been a “jolly-hearted woman”—that is, “until the air raids.” Her sister told the judge that the raids in London caused Elizabeth to shake and have delusions, and that she had become depressed. Her doctor had tried to get her out of London and away from her children, because during the raids they “screamed” and “worried her,” but he was too late. She had a nervous breakdown during a raid, and murdered her child. They called it “air raid shock.”
During World War I, the relatively new field of psychoanalysis was full of possibility and, unfortunately, thousands of new patients. The war’s destruction was not limited to the physical; the psychological devastation was immense, and soldiers returned home from the front every day exhibiting a range of new symptoms, including “hysterical paralysis,” deafness, mutism, arthritis, facial spasms, “fear, disgust, fatigue,” “delirium,” “suicidal thoughts,” “stammer,” and more. Though we now recognize many of these as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, doctors at the time struggled to find ways to categorize the rapid and widespread breakdown of the British mind. The solution for soldiers was the invention of a new condition: shell shock. The diagnosis and treatment of similar traumas in women, however, has been largely unexamined by historians.