If you’re experiencing symptoms of shell shock, such as flashbacks, anxiety, and sleep problems, there are many therapeutic and community-based options for support.

“Shell shock” is a term used to describe a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is related to combat situations. It’s a collection of symptoms, such as fear, anxiety, and panic, that can result from constant exposure to explosions and other intense threats over a long period.

Shell shock is now commonly identified as a form of PTSD that often affects military personnel and refugees of war. As with other types of PTSD, the best treatment for shell shock is tailored to individual experiences.

Read on to learn more about how PTSD is different from shell shock, the symptoms of PTSD and shell shock, and treatment options for both.

Shell shock is considered a type of PTSD.

PTSD — also sometimes called post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) — involves symptoms such as anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks. In PTSD, these symptoms are related to traumatic experiences like physical or sexual abuse, the loss of a loved one, or serious lifelong injuries.

Many PTSD symptoms can result from experiences during war, such as constant violence and fear of death. And studies of shell shock eventually allowed PTSD to become an official mental health diagnosis.

The term “shell shock” was first used in 1915 to describe the physical and psychological symptoms that soldiers experienced after returning home from World War I. The name comes from the idea that symptoms resulted from explosions of shell artillery used in cannons, tanks, and other military weaponry.

The symptoms of shell shock often lasted for months or years after the war ended and were found to be related to both the physical shocks of warfare and the psychological trauma of death, mutilation, and loss that soldiers experienced during the war.

Over the next century, researchers began to understand that the symptoms of shell shock could also occur in people’s everyday lives as a response to traumatic events. Eventually, “PTSD” became the umbrella term for any kind of post-traumatic stress response, including shell shock related to combat.

Here are the most common general symptoms of PTSD:

  • being easily surprised or scared
  • taking part in self-destructive behaviors like drinking and smoking
  • not enjoying the things you used to enjoy
  • having trouble sleeping
  • having trouble thinking or concentrating
  • feeling guilt or shame for no reason
  • feeling hopeless about your future
  • having constant memories of traumatic events
  • having flashbacks of traumatic memories in your daily life
  • having dreams about your traumatic memories
  • having physical or emotional reactions to reminders of your traumatic memories
  • feeling like you need to avoid talking about your traumatic memories
  • avoiding locations that might remind you of your traumatic memories
  • having constant negative thoughts

Many symptoms of shell shock are similar to symptoms of PTSD — but shell shock may include more physical symptoms specific to combat, such as:

Shell shock has also been associated with symptoms similar to those of traumatic brain injury.

Common treatments for shell shock and PTSD in military personnel include:

Learn more about medication options for PTSD.

Mental health care can seem daunting, especially if you’ve never looked into it before — but you’re not on this journey alone. Here are some mental health resources that can help you navigate.

For refugees and victims of war

Also be sure to look for local city or state-led organizations in your area. There are many smaller community or faith groups that provide mental and physical healthcare for refugees.

For military personnel

Learn how to find the right therapist for you.

Shell shock is a type of PTSD associated with experiencing combat, either as military personnel or as a civilian. It’s a combination of physical and psychological symptoms that result from repeated trauma related to death, loss, and injury unique to war.

Treatment for shell shock and PTSD is best when it addresses your specific needs. You can talk with a mental health professional for advice on how to find resources that can help you treat your symptoms and improve your quality of life.