Mental Health

What was the impact of the war on soldiers' mental health?

Background Information

Soldiers suffered from all kinds of trauma and injuries. What we now refer to as ‘shell shock’ and ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ were new terms not recognised during the First World War due to a lack of understanding, fear and confusion. Large numbers of casualties were affected by mental health illnesses during the war and better treatment and research into understanding it began.

Ambulance trains were a secure and safe place away from the trenches where soldiers could start to recuperate or come to terms with the effects of war.

The aim of these resources is to help your students to explore the impact and treatment of mental health in the First World War.

Teachers’ Notes

How to use these resources

  • use them as discussion points for learning about how soldiers suffering from mental health issues were treated on ambulance trains during the First World War
  • encourage your students to explore and interpret the resources
  • discuss new treatments and therapies for today’s mental health patients
  • compare methods of treatment today to that of soldiers in the First World War

Talking points

What do the images/quotes tell you?
Why do you think these photographs might have been taken?
What do these resources tell you about how soldiers suffering from mental health problems were treated?
Think about the staff that had to manage these casualties. Describe their thoughts?
Does anything in these resources surprise you?
If you were a soldier suffering with ‘shell shock’, how would you feel coming to terms with this unknown illness?
Why were these wards created and do you think they were beneficial?
What do these photographs not tell us?
What questions do you need to ask about these resources?
What other types of sources of information do you think you need to look at to find out the answers to these questions?