John Huston’s Film About Psychiatric Treatment of Veterans

When I went to the Soldier’s Project conference, one of the speakers said, “If you haven’t seen that film, you’ve been living in the dark.” Produced in 1945 at the request of the US Army, the film was subsequently banned until 1981. In 2010, the film was selected for preservation by the national film registry. Here’s a link to the film, as well as the text from part of the main intro.

The guns are quiet now, the papers of peace have been signed. And the oceans of the earth are filled with ships coming home. In faraway places men dreamed of this moment, but for some men the moment is very different from the dream. Here is human salvage, the final result of all that metal and fire can do to violate mortal flesh. Some wear the badges of their pain, the crutches, the bandages, the splints. Others show no outward signs, yet they too are wounded. This hospital is one of the many for the care and treatment of the psychoneurotic soldier. These are the casualties of the spirit, the troubled in mind, men who are damaged emotionally. Born and bred in peace, educated to hate war, they were plunged overnight into sudden and terrible situations. Every man has his breaking point and these in the fulfillment of their duties as soldiers were forced beyond the limit of human endurance.

Causes of Trauma and PTSD: Common and Less Common

Trauma occurs when we are exposed to extremely an stressful situation accompanied by a feeling of helplessness. Common examples of experiences which cause trauma are rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and military combat. But not everyone exposed to trauma develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And trauma does not always arise from the causes mentioned above. Here’s a brief list of events that may also result in traumatic stress:

  • sports injury
  • car accident
  • life-threatening illness
  • surgery
  • the sudden death of someone close
  • a breakup
  • ongoing relentless stress
  • natural disasters such as earthquake or flood
  • neglect
  • bullying

Fortunately, we have some good treatments for trauma and PTSD. Talk therapy can be helpful, especially for chronic, on-going trauma such as may occur during childhood. But sometimes talk is not enough. Various exposure treatments, such as EMDR, can be effective in reducing and even eliminating some of the most bothersome symptoms of trauma such as flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares.

Curious about treatment for trauma or PTSD? I am trained in and practice EMDR, a well researched trauma treatment. Please click on the ‘EMDR’ link in the ‘ABOUT’ section in the right-hand column of this website for more information.

If Stress Is Bad For Your Health, Trauma Is Really Bad

Here’s the abstract from an article, “Psychological Trauma and Physical Health: A Psychoneuroimmunology Approach to Etiology of Negative Health Effects and Possible Interventions” (2009) by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, and Policy. Quite a mouthful! What it means is: “Trauma Is Bad For Your Health”. You could also read it as “Stress Is Bad For Your Health” — keeping in mind that trauma is an extreme form of long-term stress. Sometimes an abstract (the short version of a scientific article) says so much. I’ve put some of the key points in bold, since I know you are busy.

People who have experienced traumatic events have higher rates than the general population of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer. An important question, for both researchers and clinicians, is why this occurs. Researchers have discovered that traumatic events dysregulate the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system. More recently, research from the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) suggests that traumatic life events can lead to health problems through dysregulation of another key system: the inflammatory response. Prior trauma “primes” the inflammatory response system so that it reacts more rapidly to subsequent life stressors. Elevated inflammation has an etiologic role in many chronic illnesses. Recent PNI studies also suggest some interventions that can serve as adjuncts to traditional trauma treatment. These treatments include long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, exercise, and sleep interventions. Each of these interventions downregulates inflammation, which will likely halt the progression to chronic disease for some trauma survivors.

The take-home point, if you will, is not just that stress is bad, but the way that it is bad. We’ve known for some time that stress activates the adrenal system, and that leads to poor health outcomes. But aggravating the inflammatory response is a new wrinkle. As I understand it, the inflammatory response is a key player in the cause of both heart disease and cancer, and a lot of research is going into understanding what makes it tick. That said, if you can head the inflammatory response off at the pass, reduce its activity before it starts — that should reduce your risk of a whole range of health conditions. Exercise and diet can reduce your risk.

And if you have traumatic stress — then potentially you open yourself up to all kinds of health problems. The good news is that traumatic stress can be treated effectively.

 

Trauma Resource

I found this guide “Healing Emotional and Psychological Trauma” that might be useful for someone who suspects the root of their problem is related to trauma. It’s nicely laid out and covers a lot of material straightforwardly. Recommended.

Here’s the link to the article at helpguide.org.