The U.S. military and organizations that offer mental health care to veterans have made tremendous strides over the years in how they recognize and treat mental stress during times of war.
During the American Civil War, for instance, the term "soldier's heart" was used to describe a combat stress reaction, or CSR, and focused on treatments that would place less physical stress on the heart, such as improving one's posture and wearing loose-fitting clothing around the waist.
By World War I, the term "shell shock" was being used to describe a CSR, although it was believed to be the result of a physical injury to the nerves that happened when a soldier was exposed to heavy bombardment. In World War II, more progress had been made: The general principles of psychiatry were being followed by the U.S. military, although terms like "exhaustion" that focused on physical symptoms were still being regularly used to describe CSRs.
Times have changed. Today, every branch of the U.S. military recognizes the critical importance of mental health and strives to offer appropriate care for soldiers, both in the U.S. and those who are deployed. Additionally, mental health services for veterans and their families, such as those offered through organizations and agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs — from family counseling to inpatient treatment to education programs and beyond — can be accessed at sites across the nation.
As impressive as this care system is, in recent years it has become critically overloaded with soldiers returning from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and has not had enough resources, funding or personnel to adequately support these service members and their families. Contributing to this overload is the fact that nearly a third of deployed soldiers returning home now find themselves in need of some type of mental health care, a much larger number than in past conflicts.