War Hysteria

Defined as the loss of speech or sight; involuntary spasms or paralysis. Symptoms of uncontrollable fear.

Soldiers suffering from the more serious symptoms of shell shock tended to receive treatments that attacked only the symptoms and not the root of the problem.

The common soldier was the most likely to suffer from this type of shell shock, brought on from life in the trench and the stresses of the front. It was believed that the first sufferers of shell shock were affected by the physical concussion of an exploding shell. As the psychological understanding of the effects of the war expanded, authorities realized soldiers could suffer from shell shock even once they had been removed from the front. This led to the introduction of terms such as trench neurosis, buried-alive neurosis, and general war neurosis.

In Germany, the Kaufmann Method was developed to treat the symptoms of shell shock, rather than address its cause. This method involved the application of a strong alternating electrical current to the affected area, for example the throat or the arm. At the same time, the doctor would verbally encourage the soldier to overcome his symptom. A pause would follow, during which time the doctor would check for the desired result. This procedure — the application of electricity, verbal encouragement, and the checking for results — would be repeated until the symptom was removed. A session could last several hours, with the strength of the electrical current changing as necessary.

Dr. Lewis Yealland at Queen Square Hospital in London, England, conducted methods similar to the Kaufmann Method. Unlike his German contemporary, Yealland believed these methods could continue after the war, and be applied to civilians. Both treatments involved the use of electricity to stimulate the affected area, and could restore energy to a limp limb or allow a soldier to speak again.

Meanwhile, in France another coercive method was employed. The French method involved monitoring the progress of a soldier on a daily basis. For example, a soldier with a limp arm would engage in daily exercise to monitor his daily range of motion. Positive progression was rewarded, while deterioration would be punished. Punishments included revoking mail or visitation privileges, isolation, and the threat of a lost furlough privilege.

Ordinary soldiers tended to receive so-called disciplinary therapies, which sought to treat the symptoms of shell shock and cure them enough to allow the soldier to fight again.