Australian doctors call for better treatment of soldiers with post traumatic stress

Members of the Mudgeeraba light horse troop take part in the ANZAC dawn service at Currumbin Surf Life Saving Club on the Gold Coast. Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Doctors owe it to the memory of the traumatised survivors of World War I to treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in current veterans diligently, according to experts writing in the Medical Journal of Australia.

“There was often little empathy for the psychological wounds of [World War I] veterans, construed by many as reflecting moral inferiority, compensation-seeking, or poor seed,” write Professor Alexander McFarlane, director of the Population Health and Clinical Practice at the University of Adelaide, and Professor David Forbes, director of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health at the University of Melbourne.

“There was considerable debate within the medical profession as to whether the traumatic neurosis of war — shellshock — was organic or psychogenic in origin.”

Today we know better, McFarlane and Forbes write, even though research is still needed into effective treatments for veterans who survived multiple traumas.

“An effective way to honour the suffering of those who fought in World War I is to ensure that our care for the current generation of veterans is diligent and informed by independent and adequately funded high quality science,” the professors write.

A recent review in the United States found that there was little hard evidence for the effectiveness of widely used PTSD treatment approaches. The only approach sustained by the evidence was post-deployment screening, which has been used by the Australian Defence Force since 1998.

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