Interview with therapist Denise Poynter about women and shellshock

In this interview, historian and therapist Denise Poynter talks to Daisy and Amelie about her search for elusive records about women who suffered from trauma and shellshock in World War One.

Denise’s work shines a light on women’s experiences of war trauma, long ignored by historians until fairly recently. Denise argues that women working near the front as nurses and VADs showed the same symptoms as men when it came to shellshock and trauma. Her discovery in the archives of a doctor’s note reading: “the report on her transfer was shell shock”, became the title of her thesis into the subject.


You can read Denise’s thesis here: The Report on her Transfer was Shell Shock.

Living with Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD)

We Are Poppy Producer, Saba, talks about living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and how it helped her to better understand the trauma of the First World War.

I live with CPTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is usually when an individual has experienced one traumatic event in their lives, whilst CPTSD is when you have experienced repeated traumatic experiences. PTSD is very common in soldiers and other people that have been involved in war. CPTSD can be a result of enduring repeated childhood neglect, physical, mental and domestic abuse. It can also affect people that have lived in war-torn countries for a length of time.

Small things today, when I am feeling low or sensitive, can trigger my CPTSD. Logic tells me it will pass and I can see what’s happening and I can see the effect it’s having but I can’t do anything to stop it. Then, all of a sudden, I’ll feel fine as if nothing happened. CPTSD and PTSD can be torture to live with. It takes over and you lose all rational sense.

I recently started feeling low within myself, I wasn’t getting much sleep, felt at odds and could tell I was being over-sensitive – I began to feel unheard and invisible. It made me think of the work we’ve been doing on Project Poppy – how our imagined character might cope in my position today. Would her plight and trauma experienced during World War One affect her today? Would loss of loved ones leave her feeing empty and at a loss herself? Would those past events trigger reactions in her present day? I know certain noises can stress me out because of all the screaming and shouting I experienced in the past. Would loud bangs or bursts of noise cause Poppy the same feeling of dread that it can conjure up in me?

Poppy made me think about all the children that suffered in World War One and other wars since then. How did they deal with their trauma and what long-term effect did it cause them, or even their children, their grandchildren and generations to come?

I consider myself lucky as I’ve had multiple forms of treatment, medication and care. I’ve tried various types of psychological therapies such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), group therapy, psychodynamic therapy which did wonders for learning how to have healthy relationships today. There are various forms of medication such as antidepressants, and other neurobehavioral medicines. I’ve tried Sonic Reset Therapy (SRT) – using the power of sound to reset your mind; reprogramming your memory. Some more holistic treatments are yoga, mindfulness, meditation – taking time out for self-care. With all these tools and knowledge I am able to monitor my symptoms. I know when things are starting to trigger, and I can put in place an action plan. One of the most important things is to reach out to someone; family, friend, a safe person you can share how you’re feeling and know you are not alone.

Working on the Poppy project highlighted two main things for me

1) we need to understand why people behave in the way that they do today, how their past can have a knock-on effect, rather than just assume they are bad, problematic, destructive, withdrawn, shy, nervous, emotional people – the list is endless.

2) Given circumstances today, especially for young people having been through months of lockdown, missing school, time with friends, regular routine, the stress of exam results, the worry about climate change or recent protests such as Black Lives Matter and other global events, we must prevent this manifesting within them and making way for trauma in adulthood.

If we can provide the support, tools and help at a young age, if we can give children hope and faith and let them know they are loved, cared for and listened to, then with any luck they won’t have to deal with trauma such as CPTSD/PTSD later on in life.

Listen to the interview about Trauma with trauma therapist Darren Abrahams for more information and insights into PTSD.

Interview with trauma therapist, Darren Abrahams

Trauma therapist Darren Abrahams talked to Arielle and Amelie this afternoon about how trauma affects refugees today through his work with Musicians Without Borders and The Human Hive.

In the interview, Darren discusses trauma and how it manifests itself, and its treatment, and shares his own family’s experiences as refugees during the First and Second World Wars.

Find out more about Darren Abrahams and his work with The Human Hive and Musicians Without Borders

Project Poppy… pandemic style

With VE Day being commemorated today, we thought it would be a good day to launch our online project about women living through the First World War. Women’s mental health was affected in both world wars, but little has been written about this.

Make (Good) Trouble CIC, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, is working on We Are Poppy, a project exploring the mental health and wellbeing of women during the First World War as well as the perception of mental health in society at the time. We are working with a group of students from Hove Park School but since lockdown, we have had to move the project online. This means that we can invite everyone to get involved!

If you would like to follow the project, learning about the First World War and women’s role in it, we have created some online resources and tasks for you to follow.  We’ll be adding to it each week with things to read, watch and listen to as well as creative and research tasks.

Hove Park School logo designs for Project Poppy


Our focus is on interpreting the story of what happened to women during the First World War, about how the War affected their mental health (a story that hasn’t really been told), and to explore what that might mean to young people today. We want to find links between then and now. In this time of Covid-19 and lockdown, and of people volunteering to help those in need, there are also parallels to be explored.

There has been a huge focus on men and shell-shock in World War One but little information available about the effect on women’s mental health during that time. Our project aims to uncover the lives of women affected and create new narratives which will look at how mental health was perceived then, in comparison with today.

If you’d like to be part of this project, explore each section of this website where you’ll find information and creative tasks.

Thank you!