Inaccurate reporting on PTSD in The Australian
9 December 2013
I write to express serious concerns about an article published in The Australian Magazine on Saturday 7 December 2013, titled Blind Eye. The author, Mr Greg Bearup, has deliberately or negligently taken my comments out of context. As a result, he has grossly misrepresented my views on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and failed to acknowledge the work I have personally undertaken to ensure Defence has the resources and health professionals required to address mental health issues in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
At no point have I 'insisted that PTSD is not particularly widespread' as the article states. To the contrary, I am acutely aware of the mental health issues facing our people. Furthermore, the implication that my personal failure to acknowledge the issue will limit the resources allocated to mental health is unfounded and deeply offensive.
The studies referred to in the article show a higher rate of PTSD in young males in the ADF compared to the general population. PSTD symptoms also increase among those who are more readily exposed to traumatic events whether in Afghanistan, on our Border Protection operations or humanitarian and disaster relief missions. These studies are readily available on the Defence website.
As I stated during a media conference on 8 August 2013, 'money will not be an issue' in addressing mental health in the ADF. Since 2009, Defence has spent almost $95 million on mental health services and support. We have increased the mental health workforce by 50 per cent; improved policy and training for all ADF health professionals; increased mental health research and surveillance; and further enhanced preventive strategies.
Most importantly, we continue to work to break down the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues. Inaccurate and misleading media reporting such as this article does not help the cause it claims to promote. Rather, it erodes the good work we are doing by perpetuating false information about the state of mental health care available in the ADF.
The article also drew quotes from the same media conference where I stated that using the term a 'tidal wave' in relation to PTSD is "provocative and emotive". I went on to amplify this statement by saying the term "tidal wave" creates a false notion of despair, 'that the system can't handle it' and that those who suffer from PTSD are 'going to drown'. My point on the 'tsunami' or 'tidal wave' analogy is that it presents a view that we are powerless before the problem. This is not so, and if commentators continue with the 'we are helpless' approach we will build a self-defeating prophecy. By failing to provide the context around this comment, the journalist has unjustly cast me as indifferent.
I am extremely disappointed that my personal commitment to mental health support has been publicly questioned without an opportunity to respond or verify my comments. This does not accord with the ethical standards the community expects from responsible journalism and I ask that you publish a correction at the earliest opportunity. I have sent a copy of this letter to the Editor-in-Chief, Mr Chris Mitchell, and I intend to post a copy to the Defence website.
D.J. HURLEY, AC, DSC
Chief of the Defence Force
9 December 2013