A growing ‘wicked problem’
In early 2016, Australia21 was approached by the chair of FearLess, retired Admiral Chris Barrie, about the possibility of a collaborative exploration of stress arising from trauma in Australia. At Australia21’s face-to-face Board meeting in February 2016, the CEO of FearLess Mr Allan Behm, discussed the activities of his organisation and their concern that trauma-related stress is a ‘wicked problem’ having a profound impact on Australian well-being and a problem deserving expanded national attention. While a great deal of research and support has been provided in the past to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, the full range of stress-related consequences arising from traumatic events was considered to require new initiatives, new research, and new approaches to supporting and preventing the development of the syndrome in large numbers of Australians.
The scope and scale of the problem are immense and it touches the lives of millions of Australians. Trauma-related stress generates massive costs in mental health, criminality, drug and alcohol use, family disruption and lost productivity.
Known to earlier generations of the military as ‘shell shock’ this debilitating spectrum of mental changes continues to bedevil large numbers of our veterans. But it also affects significant numbers of people who work as ‘first responders’ including police, ambulance and emergency personnel. There is also a major problem among indigenous communities, victims of child and sexual abuse, victims of domestic violence and jail occupants.
Understanding the problem
The result was the volume entitled Trauma-related stress in Australia: Essays by leading Australian thinkers and researchers. Published in September 2016, it contains 27 short essays by leading Australian and US clinicians, researchers, administrators and observers of the stress that often follows exposure to, or involvement in, violence and brutality.
The accounts presented suggest that trauma-related stress is costing industries and the taxpayer many billions of dollars. A more constructive approach to prevention, early intervention and effective treatment and rehabilitation is clearly essential.
The essays set the scene for a national roundtable discussion on PTSD among first responders in 2017 and a national push towards improved approaches to the issue in 2018.