Sunday, 26 October 2014

Martin O'Meara VC

Journalist Andrea Mayes interviewed me via email the other week, and has written what I think is a sensitive and balanced article about Martin O'Meara VC on her online news page.

(I wouldn't have used the word 'debunked', myself, because that's not what I'm trying to do, but that's a minor quibble.)

This article, though, has caused something of a stir. Some of the responses I've had indicate that people think it is insulting to suggest that O'Meara may have had something already in his makeup that turned out to be both a strength and a weakness, and that it in some way diminishes his courage under fire.

So here's some broad responses to some of the criticisms I've received:

1) We can't say with any precision WHAT O'Meara's diagnosis was, because the records are too old and too imperfect. And even if we did have good records, psychiatry is still such an inexact science that we'd still only be speculating. People tend to forget that psychiatry is still uncertain about the origins of almost all mental illnesses.

2) It's not casting aspersions on O'Meara, or on any other war veteran, to speculate that he may have had a pre-existing condition or a genetic predisposition that led to his serious problems after the war, which included a lot of violent outbursts and delusions.

3) Martin O'Meara may not have had what we now call PTSD; he may have had trauma-induced psychosis. This is slightly different, and bears more examination in the light of some of his symptoms. And there's nothing wrong with speculating about this, as long as it's acknowledged as speculation.

4) If pre-existing conditions and genetic predispositions are as widespread in the general population as some psychiatric researchers think they are, then they are going to be represented in the military, as well as in other walks of life.

5) Not everything to do with mental conditions is relentlessly negative. People with diagnoses have reported all kinds of new insights, new talents and new ways of seeing life, as a direct result of their diagnosis. Hence the Churchill comparison; a man whose mental illness was an inescapable part of his life, but which also moulded his character in ways that we can all be grateful for.

6) O'Meara's courage is unquestioned, as is his contribution under fire. It doesn't diminish this to speculate that some of that courage came from an inner disposition which, once the trauma of war was over, also led him to become so very unwell for the rest of his life.

After WWI, most men with psychiatric injury who returned to Western Australia were sent to Claremont Hospital for the Insane. After a huge amount of public campaigning, and some very good machinations by the State government, Lemnos Hospital was built and opened in 1926.

This Hospital came into existence because enough people saw a difference between 'people who went mad of their own fault' - the alcoholics, people with tertiary syphilis, and other undesirables who filled Claremont at the time - and 'people who went mad in a noble cause', such as war veterans.

Do we still think that way about people with mental illnesses? And do we treat them differently because we make judgements about the origin of their mental problems?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.