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Monday, January 9, 2012

Downton Abbey: Inside a Soldier’s Mind

By Brianne Moore

Those of you who watch Masterpiece Classic know that the second season of the much-loved Downton Abbey started up last night, and it was a doozy of an episode. Hardly surprising, considering the season takes place during World War I (and starts off at the Battle of the Somme, one of the most devastating and costly engagements of the entire war). With a war on, characters off fighting (or getting ready to go) and youngest daughter Sybil taking up nursing, there are bound to be some interesting and sometimes heartbreaking medical cases coming across our screens over the next few weeks.

In our first episode, we got to see some of the more common and highly devastating effects of being at war: shell shock (now more commonly referred to as PTSD) and depression. Lang, the new valet, arrives at Downton a bit jumpy, and we quickly learn that he’s been invalided out of the service, even though he doesn’t look like he’s been wounded. His anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and flashbacks to his time in the trenches are all classic symptoms of PTSD, and with the house preparing to turn itself into a convalescent hospital for returning wounded soldiers, we can be sure Lang’s condition will only deteriorate. Lang is hardly alone—many soldiers develop PTSD after being in combat (more than half of all Vietnam veterans experienced symptoms)—but the disorder wasn’t actually identified and named until the Vietnam War era. Soldiers like Lang were considered “shell shocked” and just urged to rest for a bit. For someone in his social position, however, a period of rest isn’t necessarily an option—after all, one has to eat and have a roof over one’s head.

Even sadder than Lang’s story was that of Lieutenant Courtney, the blinded soldier being treated in the local hospital. He’s so pitiful he even makes the hateful former footman Thomas grow a bit of a heart. His blindness is the result of the use of new chemical weapons during the war: chlorine, and later mustard gas. These gasses not only caused blindness (both temporary and permanent); they also severely damaged the lungs, caused internal bleeding and blistered the skin. The young lieutenant, faced with a very different life from the one he’d planned, is also suffering from severe depression. Like Lang, he’s not alone—depression currently affects one in 10 Americans—but like so many things, it was poorly understood during this period, and effective treatments were virtually nonexistent. The doctor’s advice that the young man chin up and make the best of his situation was about the best they could do. Tragically, this advice did nothing to help the young soldier, who like many depressed people was struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Nowadays, depression is far better understood, and a wide range of treatments are available (the same holds true for blindness as well), but it never hurts to brush up on some of the warning signs of depression so someone can intervene before it’s too late.

Are you watching Downton Abbey? How do you feel about the season so far? Discuss your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted by: Brianne Moore at 1:07 pm

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