In honour of Anzac Day we’re publishing a segment of our fascinating interview with former Director General Personnel of the Australian army, Peter Daniel who was instrumental in changing culture in the army. Daniel talks here about resilience and how ideas surrounding mental wellness have evolved since the second world war.
Amanda Woodard: Do you think we’re less resilient as a society than the generations who experienced the Second World War and its aftermath?
Peter Daniel: To be honest, I don’t think so. I’ll give you an example from my own life. My grandfather died in the Second World War and he’s buried in Singapore, and my grandmother grew up and lived through the Great Depression and so on. When we were kids – this is in the late ’60s, early ’70s – my grandmother would always say that in the street where she lived, ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day were two days when she locked the door because ‘X’ across the road went on a rampage on those particular days. He’d get drunk and he was abusive and doing all sorts of stuff. It was because of, no doubt, the impact of the war and what he’d gone through. Those two days brought back bad memories. The street dealt with it. For the rest of the year, he was a charming gentleman that everyone in the street knew.
Nowadays we don’t deal with [these kind of problems] in a local environment.
(To find out why resilience is crucial indicator of workplace performance, read our article.)
AW: What you are describing is a community responsibility that has disappeared. Now, individual failure is treated as shameful, and not dealt with in a kind of communal way.
Absolutely. I think that’s what’s changed. I think what’s occurred is that we have lost the value statements as a community. Humans are herd animals. We want to be part of our herd, our community. The easiest way of giving to the herd is by working. Unconsciously you are contributing to the community. At given points, you can take from the community and the community is accepting of that. You can’t work any longer because you’ve broken your leg for six months; you can take from the community and the community is okay with that.
In many instances, during something like the Second World War, there was a huge impact on the communities, so people could take from the community for long periods because everyone knew of somebody who was going through some issue, and the community would support that. I think we’ve forgotten that we’re herd animals. We’ve forgotten that we have to contribute before we take. And so you have a community rightly saying, “Hang on. You’ve got to add before you can take.” It’s not a conscious statement, but I think it’s where we sit.
AW: Why, in peace times, is mental health such a growing problem among the workforce?
PD: Surprisingly, again, mental wellbeing was a problem for my generation, but not necessarily for a 20 or 24 year old, who is happy to acknowledge that they have some issues going on in their life or would like to seek some assistance for those issues.
I think the problem is that we are over-medicalising it. I mean, a soldier that’s been in the army for four years and has not been deployed operationally will suddenly develop Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). Really? This is a person who has done a job nine-to-five, might be under a bit of stress, but no more than you’d expect for the average person, and who’s suddenly reporting as PTSD.
Maybe he’s got a level of stress or anxiety, maybe even depression. But the number of people in our society who report extreme symptoms – maybe because we don’t know how to talk about it – to say, it’s okay to be stressed.
It’s a case of moving with what’s occurring in our society as opposed to assuming that we are the problem. I think that will be the next big change that occurs inside the Australian workforce: how to embrace people who have a mental wellness issue, that ultimately may get better or will at least be treatable for a period of time that they are in the workforce. That they shouldn’t be treated with kid gloves or any differently than someone else. That will be an issue I think for our society as we go forward.
Taken from an interview that will be published in a future edition of HRMagazine.
Photo: 25 pounder field gun of the 2/3 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery being emplaced at Boram Strip near Wewak, New Guinea (copyright expired). Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.