Elspeth Cameron Ritchie

Dr. Ritchie is a forensic psychiatrist with especial expertise in military and veteran's issues. She is currently Chief of Psychiatry at Medstar Washington Hospital Center and Vice Chair of Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. Recent jobs have included Chief of Mental Health for the Community Based Outpatient Clinics at the Washington DC VA and Chief Clinical Officer, Department of Behavioral Health, for the District of Columbia. She retired from the Army in 2010, after holding numerous leadership positions within Army Medicine, to include the Psychiatry Consultant.
She trained at Harvard, George Washington, Walter Reed, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and has completed fellowships in both forensic and preventive and disaster psychiatry. She is a Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Georgetown University and George Washington University School of Medicine.
An internationally recognized expert, she brings a unique public health approach to the management of disaster and combat mental health issues. Her assignments and other missions have taken her to Korea, Somalia, Iraq, and Cuba. She has over 250 publications, mainly in the areas of forensic, disaster, suicide, ethics, military combat psychiatry, and women's health issues. Recent volumes include: "Forensic and Ethical Issues in Military Behavioral Health", "Women at War", "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Related Diseases in Combat Veterans", "Intimacy After Injury: Restoring Sexual Health on Return from Combat"; "Psychiatrists in Combat, Clinicians Experience in the War Zone" and "Gay Mental Healthcare Providers and Patients in the Military: Personal Experiences and Clinical Care".


Forensic and Ethical Issues in Military Behavioral Health

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Women at War
EC Ritchie, AL Naclerio - 2015

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In the very first text of its kind, Women at War brings together all available information and experience on women's physical and mental health in one resource to enlighten the practitioners caring for them. Our US Department of Defense is approximately 15%



News and Current Events

Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, Christopher H Warner, Robert N McLay,
Psychiatrists in Combat: Mental Health Clinicians' Experiences in the War Zone
Cham, Switzerland, 2017, Springer International Publishing AG

October 11, 2017

Book Review

By: Leslie Hartley Gise, MD

Reading this book is like stepping through the looking glass. Itís unreal. Things change. Rules are followed, rules are broken. Itís a different world, unless, of course, youíve been in combat. The authors describe the stresses of leaving home and family, interrupting training, unimaginably harsh living conditions and weather, and the constant risk of being bombed. Elspeth (ìCamî) Ritchie is a retired Army Colonel and the book is about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The twenty-two chapters tell completely different individual stories by mental health clinicians who have a tremendous variety of backgrounds and perspectives. Some chapters are intense and specific, others are more mellow and vague. Some are personal war stories and a few include authorsí feelings and emotions. Most of the authors are medical doctors, but a psychiatristís wife and writer, Mary El Pearce, is particularly enlightening. An occupational therapist, Shannon Merkle, tells of being attacked and describes her concussion while simultaneously running a Concussion Care Center.

The book illustrates that the key to enduring the hardships and maintaining mental wellbeing in a combat environment is building positive relationships with fellow soldiers. Several examples of this idea include the comment that, "we fight more for each other than for any higher cause", and the book's highlighting of concepts of camaraderie, humor, "lightening the mood," "moral boosting," and "smoking and joking."

The importance of "kinship—bonding" and "unit cohesion" was illustrated by finding "profound psychological injury" among those guarding detainees. These soldiers were predominantly reservists and service members on temporary duty assignments, used to fill shortages, who were "plucked from their military family—cleaved from the comfort and support of their organic command." Psychiatrist Robert Koffman insightfully describes the horror, complexity and psychological consequences of Abu Ghraib. He learned to "never identify a problem without also identifying a solution," and out of this disaster, Mobile Care Teams were born.

Losing soldiers and attending memorial services were among the greatest challenges. A color picture that will stick in my mind is, "a fallen soldier battle cross: "a pair of boots with a rifle stuck in them with a helmet on top, sometimes with dog tags. It has an American flag in the back.

The principles of military mental health were discovered over one hundred years ago during World War I, but they have had to be relearned many times. What is now called "Combat Stress Controlî was previously called "Shell Shock," "Battle Fatigue," and the "Thousand Yard Stare." The basic principles include quick treatment, returning soldiers to duty, and keeping them as close to their unit as possible. We had to relearn "to keep the providers with the troops they serve." When the war in Afghanistan began, "there weren't any psychiatrists at the front lines." Psychiatrists had to build "rapport with soldiers," volunteer to serve with medics on patrols, and establish credibility with troops by going out on missions to small outposts. Psychiatrists learned to do "therapy by walking around." In response to new problems, there have been more advances in military behavioral health in the past 15 years than in the prior 100 years.

Psychiatrists had to go beyond mental health care to be in charge of other doctors, the team, and burnout. For example, psychiatrist Christopher Warner wrote that when a "convoy was hit with an improvised explosive device, killing and wounding several soldiers including our most senior medic—his loss—hit me hard—I found myself very afraid—I assessed each of the team members and could see the fear and panic on their faces. I met with the Battalion Commander—we—agreed that we needed to get them back out there as soon as possible." It was decided to drive the convoy team to "visit—the 3 members of the team who were wounded but survived." Multiple leaders thought the team needed rest and "weren't ready." To approve the visit, it took a shouting match with leadership and Warner's joining the convoy, but the soldiers enjoyed the visit and the next day "were more cohesive and motivated—to continue their mission—."

Military mental health providers are tasked with "agonizing choices—between doing what is best for the mission and what is best for their people," "when to keep a stressed soldier with his unit, when to send a Marine who is suicidal home." Most evacuated troops had "suicidal thoughts serious enough to make them a liability on the battlefield." Psychiatrist, Rohul Amin, describes military culture and the difficulty treating suicidal patients: "The most significant thing that made managing psychiatric patients in a combat zone very different from those outside a combat zone, was that every patient was carrying a weapon at all times with a full magazine of ammunition." Other challenges include the difficulties of women, including sexual assault.

There is some repetition and it's not surprising that there are a tremendous number of acronyms. It would have been helpful to have a glossary in the back of the book. But these stories have not been told before; it is worth reading them.


Cameron Ritchie

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Elspeth Cameron Ritchie's book

Tearing through the Moon

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