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Shell shock and mild traumatic brain injury - a historical review

NOVEMBER 01, 2007

Professor Edgar Jones, Dr Nicola Fear and Professor Simon Wessely's historical review ‘Shell Shock and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury – A Review’ has been published in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Working at the King's Centre for Military Health Research, Jones et al have written this review looking at the nature of shell shock, its clinical presentation, the military context, hypotheses of causation and issues of management and consider whether there are contemporary relevancies to the current signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, known as Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI). 

Professor Jones explains: "Mild traumatic brain injury is not a new disorder confined to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Its symptoms and military context bear strong similarities with shell shock in World War One and post-concussional syndrome in World War Two.  There are dangers not only in assuming that MTBI is novel but in characterizing it solely as an organic injury.  The evidence of the last two World Wars is that brain injury often arises in a context of psychological distress, requiring us to consider the physical but also the mental health of those with concussive injuries."

A full copy of the review can be read in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.  Subscribers can download a copy from their website:

In addition to his ongoing War and Psychiatry research Professor Jones is also the principle lecturer on a taught MSc course in War and Psychiatry, the only course of its kind that examines war and psychological disorders in anywhere in the world.  This programme is jointly run by the Institute of Psychiatry and its sister school the Department of War Studies at the School of Social Science and Public Policy and explores the evidence and conflicting explanations for psychological disorders of war.

This multidisciplinary course looks at the psychological impact of War and is open to UK and International students with at least a BA/BSc level qualification.  Jones talking about the course explains, “War is a very different experience to other areas of trauma and needs to be studied properly to be understood.   Within this year's MSc students will learn about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome as well as the effects of terrorism on civilians together with how individuals create coping strategies amongst other topics."

“This course is of direct relevance to health-care professionals involved with the armed forces, emergency services or other groups exposed to stressful situations.” Jones adds.

For anyone wishing to make enquiries about the Taught MSc course please contact Professor Jones to  or apply on line at:

Professor Jones is also being interviewed by the broadcaster Jeremy Paxman in a special documentary on the World War 1 Poet, Wilfred Owen, entitled 'Wilfred Owen - a Remembrance Story' which will aired on BBC 1 at 17.50pm on Sunday 11 November 2007.  In this one hour documentary Edgar Jones talks about Wilfred Owen's own experience of shell shock, how he was treated at Craiglockhart and how this traumatic experience became incorporated in his poetry and gave him the mental strength to return to font-line battle.
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