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Dragon

Mental ill health and suicide in this period

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Dragon

I hope that this doesn’t sound ghoulish; it is a serious question.

Can anyone suggest sites or texts which address the issue of suicide in the Great War period, looking at either the serving men, or their people at home who survived them, or both? I’m looking for information which applies to the decade of the War and its immediate aftermath, rather than people for whom life became intolerable many years afterwards.

Further, I would appreciate suggestions of where I might look for information about what we now know to be clinical depression, and the contemporary psychiatric interpretations of it, or their mental health generally, among the families left at home or the bereaved.

I don’t wish to look at sensationalist or melodramatic sites, or those who treat mental distress with disrespect, but those which address the topic with sensitivity and compassion.

Many thanks

Gwyn

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Michelle Young

Gwyn,

A couple of books you could try are "A war of Nerves" by Ben Shephard and "Doctors in the Great War" by Ian Whitehead. There is also a bit about mental health in Philip Hoares "Spike Island", although only a bit.

Regards, Michelle :blink:

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Guest Pete Wood

Dragon this sounds like an interesting topic, which I would also like to learn more about.

In my limited experience, I understand that the modern-day services are now a lot more understanding (and forgiving) of military personnnel who have been traumatised in the course of their duty - and more supportive, where their families are concerned (SSAFA springs to mind, immediately).

May I be so bold as to ask where your particular interest in this subject is leading??

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Clive Maier

I am afraid I can't contribute information but I will be very interested to follow the outcome of this very good enquiry.

Death by your own hand is easily defined as suicide but what about those who invited death by taking ‘suicidal’ risks in combat? Is this heroism, recklessness, fatalism or suicide? Did people who could take no more just run into the bullets to get it over with? Sassoon records his feelings of guilt at remaining alive when so many were dead and admits that he invited death on his patrols. If he had been killed, this would have been by his own will but not his own hand. Would that have been a suicide in all but name? What about people who flung themselves on grenades to shield the others? Heroic certainly, but is it also suicide? Or can self-sacrifice never be suicide?

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Roberta

Not a ghoulish subject at all.

A book that focuses on the psychological effects of WWI is Eric Leed's *No Man's Land.* It's not exclusively on the topic of suicide, but it does address mental issues, mostly during battle, with a little bit on the aftermath.

Worth a read!

Roberta

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paul guthrie

T ake a look at the message below this post. This suicide is explained to an extent in my Stand To ! article on him, may be issue # 56 but not sure. It's also

explained in the reprint of his book which Westlake has, I did the afterward section. The short version is he was still in pain from 22 wounds received 18 11 16. This is not an overstatement, I have his medical records. He was discharged medically unfit but managed to enter US Army and was comissioned. His division left for France without him, he went AWOL and shot himself a month later in NYC. He had not been very good at anything before, though a fine writer, and badly wanted to serve. I think the disappointment and pain, he limped, resulted in depression which was not really treatable then. And, death to a brave man. His DCM was for rescuing wounded under shellfire. He is buried here in Lexington and is named on the local memorial to those who died in the war.

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Malcolm

Some were not so successful - *.

The note below was taken from a War Diary - no names - no pack drill,

4 ors WIA 7/9/1918

1 ors W. SIW 7/9/1918*

5 ors WIA 8/9/1918

3 ors WIA 9/9/1918

4 ors W SIW 10/9/1918*

1 ors KIA 12/9/1918

4 ors KIA 21/9/1918

5 ors WIA 22/9/1918

8 ors WIA 24/9/1918

7 ors WIA 21/9/1918

3 ors WIA 25/9/1918

1 ors W SIW 25/9/1918*

2 ors W SIW 27/9/1918*

275 ors casualties 28/9/1918 – 30/9/1918

8 SIW in one battalion in two weeks. The impending battle was an obvious factor.

To be driven to suicide or a self inflicted wound as the only escape from the horrors deserves sympathy but I doubt any of these men got that.

Aye

Malcolm

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john w.

I am working on post war effects on those given the death penalty and then released under the terms of the Suspension of sentences act 1915, and then survived the war.

Seems like a broadly linked topic Dragon... am interested in the outcome

John

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Guest Ian Bowbrick

The way consecutive Governments in this country have treated disabled servicemen is absolutely disgraceful. We should take a leaf out of the book of American Governments who at least treat their veterans with some respect. They were one of the first to officially recognise 'combatative mental trauma'. It would be interesting to compare how the Americans and the British treated this issue.

Views from American Pals?

Ian :angry:

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Sue Light

Although this list is focused on 'servicemen,' it may be worth remembering that suicide was a criminal offence in England until 1961 - not a great deal of sympathy for anyone at all in the general population - mental health provision may not have gone far enough, but it's certainly travelled in the last forty years. 1920 was still the Stone Age - not many Dr. Rivers around!

Regards - Sue

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Dragon

I will try and explain why I am interested.

Initially, my thinking started with something I’m trying to write and I wanted to look at suicide or mental distress involving a fictional female character during the Great War. I wanted to find out what she might have done and how the problems affecting her state of mind might have been perceived by her contemporaries. My search for information led only to superficial anecdotal material of the sort I could have obtained quite easily had I been able to chat to elderly people about perceived skeletons in their family cupboards. Other information was melodramatic or sentimental. Much contemporary fictional writing deals with unhappiness, but this is not depression.

Secondly, I am involved in mental health care in the UK both as a service user and a volunteer. I have been extremely well supported by my mental health medical professionals both in and out of hospital; and the more I reflected on this and thought about my fictional character, the more it led me to wonder about how I would have managed had I been faced with the traumas and pressures of women in that period: bereavement, the return of a lover maimed or radically changed, poverty, child-rearing, post-natal depression, miscarriage, fatigue, inadequate support from an injured husband, separation and anxiety, alcohol, life with a depressed or traumatised partner; as well as psychiatric conditions which we would recognise and treat, such as clinical depression or bipolar depression.

This then led me to think about the experience of men, in the ways that some of you have mentioned above.

I wanted to consider factors such as medical intervention (if any), stigma, the role of religion, what predisposed a person to risk, the social and cultural expectations of a person in mental distress, the uncertainty and even hopelessness of living in a world which may have been perceived to be falling apart.

This is, I realise, a superficial statement, but I felt I should address the query about why I was interested.

Thank you very much for your replies so far.

Gwyn

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Garde Grenadier

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy

Who grinned at life in empty joy,

Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,

And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,

With crumps and lice and lack of rum,

He put a bullet through his brain.

No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer when soldier lads march by,

Sneak home and pray you'll never know

The hell where youth and laughter go.

S. Sassoon

as found on the website The Heritage of the Great War.

Regards

Daniel

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john w.

Contemporary writings of the period like Vera Britten, after the death of Roland Leighton could prove to be poignant.

Almost noblesse oblige in attitude... not enough men to go round so one does ones best and looks after an old soldier with no legs etc, because it is ones duty...

John

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Dragon

Malcolm - it is probably perfectly obvious, and if it is I'm sorry, but could you tell me what 'ors' means, please, as I don't think I know.

Thank you!

Gwyn

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Greenwoodman

Other Ranks :)

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Michelle Young

Gwyn

My guess is other ranks, but I might be totally off beam here!

Michelle :unsure:

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Dragon

Ah!!

Thank you both.

Gwyn

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john w.

Have you read William Moore the Thin Yellow Line....

The author covers a great deal from within and after the war... mental and ill health

John

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Dragon

Thank you for your replies and the book recommendations.

I was already familiar with Testament of Youth, but John’s comment has prompted me to revisit those moving episodes. Unfortunately I’ve lent a lot of my Great War fiction and poetry to a student friend, so I doubt I’ll be seeing them again for a while. Still, I know she’s enjoying them, so I don’t mind.

I have looked up the texts mentioned and I will be heading off to my local library tomorrow to find out which they can obtain for me. Roberta, I couldn’t track down the Eric Leed book you mentioned: do you have an ISDN for it? (When I did a search by title, the best Amazon could come up with was a Batman adventure!)

Gwyn

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Steve Bramley

Hello Dragon,

I'm unsure if i can help, but have you read 'Goodbye to all that' by Robert Graves?

In one chapter Graves briefly describes staying at Seigfried Sassoons' home whilst on leave and being unable to sleep well due to constant wailing in the house. This apparently refers to Sassoons mother who was mourning the death of his brother Hamo earlier in the war. I've read somewhere that she was using mediums and spiritualists in an attempt to contact him! Graves commenting in print about this contributed to their friendship ending.

I'm not an expert on Sassoon or Graves so if this is inaccurate then please forgive me. But there was a massive increase in the use of mediums and spiritualists (all unscrupulous, no doubt) during and after the war. My thinking is that for an intelligent woman like Mrs Sassoon (and many like her) to resort to such desperate measures then what must her state of mind have been like?

Perhaps you could persue this train of thought further?

Some other publications that may help (but not associated with the above) are:

Shell Shock by Wendy Holden (1998) Channel 4 Books/MacMillan ISBN 0 7522 2199 X

The Repression of War Experience by W.H.R. Rivers

http://www.ku.edu/~kansite/ww_one/comment/rivers.htm

Yours

Steve

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john w.

Regeneration doesnt really count I suppose as it was set during the war, but might give indications as to the why the soldiers cracked...

John

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