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War Surgery and Medicine

Neurosis in the Navy

Neurosis in the Navy

From September 1939 to December 1946 there were 182 cases of neuro-psychiatric and mental disturbances invalided from the Royal New Zealand Navy, on home and overseas service, representing a ratio of 4.2 per 1000 per annum. Cases of schizophrenia, melancholia, acute depression states, and psychopathic personality totalled 49; anxiety states, 75; neurasthenia, 24; hysteria, 18; and functional dyspepsia, 16. Most of the cases in the first group were detected during training or in the early stages of service, when abnormal conduct or failure to respond to instruction and discipline prompted investigation. The group of functional nervous disorders presented one of the most difficult problems of naval service medicine during the war. From the point of view of service efficiency, the prompt discharge of all such cases had much to recommend it; but medical officers had to be constantly on their guard against establishing an easy way out for those who for one reason or other were anxious to avoid their obligations. Some of the milder cases were found suitable employment in base establishments.

Careful analysis of the cases of neurosis in the Navy showed that only a very small proportion could be attributed directly to the extra hazards of war, such as the mining or torpedoing of their ships, aircraft accidents, exposure to gunfire or bombing. Fifty-three were home service only and eighty had overseas service. Furthermore, the greater number did not break down in the early stages of service or on their first experience of trying or arduous conditions, page 647 but after lengthy periods of service. Apart from the actual strain of war experience, important contributing factors were domestic and economic problems. Naval medical officers noted variations in the incidence of neurosis in different ships in which they served. There was a great depth of meaning in the old naval term ‘a happy ship’, implying a unit in which there was mutual trust and respect between officers and men, and dependent to a great extent on officers and senior ratings who not only knew their jobs but who also had a sympathetic understanding of the men under them and could get the best out of them.