“THE TOUCHSTONE OF INSANITY:” PERCEPTIONS OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA OF WAR WITHIN THE UNITED STATES FROM 1861 TO 1918. Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
Creator
  • Levandoski, Rachel
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
Abstract
  • ABSTRACT Rachel J. Levandoski: “The Touchstone of Insanity:” Perceptions of the Psychological Trauma of War within the United States from 1861 TO 1918. (Under the Direction of Wayne Lee) This dissertation examines how American medical professionals and the lay public constructed parallel discourses on the psychological effects of war from the Civil War through World War I. I analyze the development of these concurrent debates within the pages of medical journals and wartime coverage in national news media in order to uncover whether Americans were able to construct a shared understanding of the role of war in the psychological breakdown of soldiers. Medical interest in combat-related psychological trauma expanded from tentative recognition during the Civil War to the full-scale mobilization of military psychiatry in response to WWI. This growth was due to evolving medical paradigms about the nature of mental illness and the role of trauma in the development of psychiatric disorders. Equally important was the emergence of a professional, unified mental health field. These changes between 1861 and 1918 created an environment on the eve of WWI where mental health experts were prepared to investigate the legitimacy of war-related mental breakdown. I conclude that the medical discourse which developed among American mental health practitioners during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and WWI influenced popular perceptions of the suffering of soldiers, but it did so without a cohesive effort by the psychiatric profession to educate the public. Absent the guidance of experts, the populace relied on the sensationalist reporting of journalists. This led the public to construct an image of war-related mental illness that was more severe than that current understanding within the medical community. Thus, while both professionals and non-professionals at the end of WWI accepted the broad premise that warfare could have a deleterious effect on the mind, there was no national consensus on the cause or characteristics of psychological breakdown in war. This inability to reach a shared understanding prevented the construction of an enduring disease identity derived from combat-related psychological trauma before, during, and after World War I. As a result, mental health professionals and the public had to constantly relearn about the psychological effects of war on the mind, limiting the ability of either to respond to the needs of soldiers and veterans.
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  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • Glatthaar, Joseph
  • Lee, Wayne
  • Kohn, Richard
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin
  • Humphreys, Margaret
Degree
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018
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