in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926)
“All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation...You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” ― Gertrude Stein
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event”. Although this is what is known today about PTSD, it was not officially classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association (APA) until 1980. Yet PTSD was a side effect of combat trauma long before. Though there was a vague term, “shell shock,” expected to explain all the psychological effects of war, it was not a diagnosis; it was a nickname. In Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, the characters are part of a “lost generation” in the early twentieth century, proving that the after-effect of war can make people try to escape the reality of things, which in turn leads to misbehavior.
During World War I, the psychological distress of soldiers was a result of concussions caused by the impact of shells; this effect was believed to disturb the brain and cause “shell shock.” According to the American Psychological Association, symptoms of “shell shock” included “fatigue, tremor, confusion, nightmares and impaired sight and hearing”. Additionally, it often served as the go-to diagnosis when a soldier was unable to function, and no obvious cause could be identified. Until 1980, when the APA added PTSD to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). During many years of research, the DSM-III criteria was revised several times. As a result, scientists and doctors now know a great deal about PTSD. For example, one is “most likely to develop symptoms of PTSD in the hours or days following a traumatic event, [but] it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear. There are four main types of symptoms: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, or changes in emotional reactions”. The significant change introduced by the concept of PTSD was that the cause of misbehavior was linked to a traumatic event, rather than an inherent individual weakness. Therefore, the key to understanding the causes and effects of PTSD was the concept of trauma.