Views & Reviews Review of the week

How not to make a drama out of a crisis

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 29 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1251
  1. Simon Wessely, director, King’s Centre for Military Health Research, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London
  1. Simon.Wessely{at}

    A new book that describes the changing responses of medical professionals to people who have been in a disaster represents a welcoming maturing of the field, finds Simon Wessely

    This is the first textbook “specifically on disaster psychiatry,” its preface claims, and there is no doubt that the editors, distinguished scholars themselves, have assembled an impressive line-up of contributors to consider a range of issues, from epidemiology, assessment, and diagnosis to pandemics, terrorism, bereavement, service planning, and interventions.

    But why is this the first such volume? One contributor, David Benedek, notes that “social scientists, historians and psychiatrists concerned themselves with the consequences of traumatic experiences on individual and populations for decades before the diagnosis of acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were specifically identified.” True enough; nevertheless fewer than 30 of the book’s 1300 or so references date from before 1980, the year when post-traumatic stress disorder entered the diagnostic canon.

    The arrival of the disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was a turning point—not in our acknowledgment of the psychiatric consequences of disaster and trauma but more in the way …

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