The Pittsburgh Press (April 3, 1944)
Unfit for fighting –
4 of every 10 disabled soldiers are victims of emotional wounds
Toll of mental and nervous illnesses greater than battle injuries
By Marjorie Van de Water
Mental and nervous illnesses take a greater toll in the armed services than war wounds, Marjorie Van de Water points out in the first of five articles dealing with the return home of men discharged as “NPs” – neuropsychiatric cases. In this series, Miss Van de Water, author of Psychology for the Fighting Man, shows how the mentally wounded should be handled.
Four or five men in every 10 discharged from the Army for disability are mentally or emotionally unfit.
This means that mental and nervous illness is responsible for a far greater loss of manpower to the Armed Forces than are battle wounds, influenza, malaria or any other single illness.
It is a serious problem for the Army. And it is a serious problem for the home front, too. For the people at home are wondering just what it means when a man is charged for neuropsychiatric reasons. Are such men mentally ill, insane? Are they going to act “queer”? Can they make good on civilian jobs?
Each month approximately 25,000 of these men will be coming back to American homes and looking for civilian jobs if the present discharge rate continues.
Most of the worry of families, friends and employers is due to a lack of information about the sort of person the Army is sending home for this reason.
The great majority of the neuropsychiatric discharges are men who belong in the first, the “neuro,” part of the classification. They are neurotic. Few actually suffer from mental diseases. Few need hospitalization after discharge, although many might profit from good psychiatric advice.
Up to the present time, at least, the great majority are men who have not seen services overseas. They have had their crackup after a few months, perhaps only a few weeks, of training. They do not fit into military life and cannot successfully adjust to it.
It is debatable whether they can blame their troubles on their Army experience. Certainly, it is true these men might have adjusted perfectly well in civilian jobs if the war had not uprooted them. Most of them will go back to civilian jobs and fill them quite adequately. A few undoubtedly would never be very successful in either civilian or military occupations.
Many just don’t fit
But the Army has no corner on neurotics; there are plenty in civilian life. They just become more conspicuous in the Army. In the first place, men are so closely associated in the Army that they have no “private lives.” The oddities of any one individual become matters of public knowledge and public concern. Then, too, many individual oddities and quirks of behavior cannot be tolerated in a military situation – they just do not fit in.
Think how many persons in civilian life suffer from “nervous indigestion” – cannot eat this or that. They have their own private stock of favorite “tummy treats” or “banish burn” in the bathroom medicine closet. The Army cannot issue soda mint. Nor can time-out be taken in combat to stir up something for that after-meal discomfort.
Neither can the Army afford to have soldiers subject to headaches, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, heart palpitation, dizziness, or faintness. These are ills to which the neurotic is liable. All are aggravated by emotion, by worry, by overconscientious “stewing” over present and future problems.
Few result from fear
Some men can’t stand the sight of blood. They pass out cold. But unless that person wants to be a dentist or a butcher or a surgeon, this is not likely to interfere much with his job in civilian life. It will in the Army.
Few of the nervous troubles of men discharged from the Army during military training are due to fear of combat. Many more can be traced to worries and troubles at home. Financial worries, homesickness, hunger for affection and companionship, concern over sickness at home – these are the things that make a soldier crack up in camp or “go over the hill.”
No one who leaves a comfortable happy home enjoys the tough grind of military life. Strict discipline, hard work, lack of sympathy and being plunged into a large group of strangers are hard to take for the individual who is naturally shy and unable to make new friends easily. Everything is new to him. The sergeant yells at him. Nothing he does seems right. He is bawled out right and left by the noncoms and he is teased by the other men.
They try their hardest
After a while, he may begin to feel completely discouraged and defeated. He is sure he can never make good in this strange new life. It is too hard. Most men get through this stage all right. Gradually they catch on to all the things expected of them and begin to feel at home. They make friends. But a few remain dispirited. It really is too hard for them. They are not fitted to be soldiers.
It is not their fault. Usually, this type of man tries his utmost. But his best is not quite good enough for the stern demands made on him. So, the Army decides he would be much more good to the war effort in a civilian job in a war plant where men are badly needed, too.
NEXT: The man who cracks up in combat.