Attrition: Chinese Army Hit With PTSD Epidemic


p> June 18, 2008:  In the wake of the relief efforts for the recent earthquakes in China, army doctors find themselves faced with thousands of soldiers exhibiting strange symptoms. These include  severe fatigue, shortness of breath,  palpitations, headaches, excessive sweating, dizziness, disturbed sleep, fainting and flashbacks to traumatic situations encountered during the weeks of working in the earthquake zone (where nearly 100,000 people died). A few of the army doctors recognized the symptoms as PTSD  (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). It's been three decades since Chinese soldiers experienced combat, and there are only stories left of its after-effects. Some of the oldest NCOs and officers vaguely remember, when they first entered military service,  hearing about  veterans of the 1979 battles on the Vietnamese border, suffering from combat fatigue.


PTSD is not unusual for relief workers at the site of particularly horrendous disasters. The recent earthquakes in central China were the kind of disaster that only occurs every generation or two. And this was the first one in which so many troops were mobilized, so quickly, to help out. Thus many of these soldiers saw the aftereffects when they were still fresh, and at their most horrific. Chinese doctors are consulting the growing body of medical knowledge and research on PTSD, particularly work done in the U.S. to treat the many soldiers exposed to the stress of working in wartime Iraq.  Chinese military doctors estimate that up to 20 percent of the soldiers who performed relief duty in the earthquake zone, now have PTSD. Many civilian workers are similarly affected, and also need treatment.