Ever since I joined the Army as a chaplain, way back in1963, I have been keen to promote my social justice work as an expression of ANZAC survival style.
Once known as "shell shock" the incidence of psychological battle scars on soldiers is well-documented rising psychiatric among US troops returning from Iraq.
An anonymous survey of 6,200 US soldiers by doctors from the Walter Reed Army Institue of Research found 17% of combatants returning from Iraq and 11% returning from Afghanistan were suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This compares with a mental illness rate 9% among troops pre-deployment.
But how many of those psychologically affected by the horrors of war were genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions?
Now this timeless question of nature versus nurture as the underlying cause of mental illness has resurfaced in a controversial book.
Models of madness: Psychological, Social and Biological approach to Schizophrenia
(Palsgrave Macmillan, $51) compiles research by 23 mental health experts including 3 Australians.
The book's editor, University of Auckland psychologist John Read, claims that how we grow up and what happens to us in life plays a far more significant role in determining our mental health than our genetic make-up.
"Contrary to the views of biologically oriented psychiatrists and drug companies, the most accurate predictors of most mental health problems including depression, suicidiology and psychosis are adverse life events, and circumstances such as poverty, discrimination and abuse," Dr Read said.
"No single event usually by itself causes a mental illness but research show a very high prevalence of childhood sexual and physical abuse among adults with psychosis."
More than 40 international studies reveal an average of 69% of male adult psychiatric inpatients experienced some form of childhood abuse he said.
Look at Dr Read's predictors for mental illness. they apply to all my friends receiving fair, firm and friendly support through my 3 agencies - Open Family, Emerald Hill Mission and The Fr. Bob Maguire Foundation.
When I arrived at Sts Peter & Paul, South Melbourne, fresh from 4 years in the Australian Army Character Training Team, I quickly launched a social justice / social welfare intervention campign in favour of local young people, "Australia's best natural resource".
Discovering the depth of youth alienation, their minds and hearts were elsewhere, I developed a 'street-wise' unit Open Family Inc. Open Family evolved from the STREET of South and Port Melbourne and Garden City, where generational poverty and crime were endemic.
One notable aspect of our origins as a social justice / social welfare player was massive support (moral) provided by government ministers and senior bureaucrats BUT, an equally massive, lack of support from lower grade public units.
I refer you back to Doctor John Read's predictors of mental illness.
So many of the neighbourhood under '20's were chasing drugs available in the '70's and '80's mainly in adjacent areas St Kilda and Footscray. I now know that hectic chase as a frantic attempt at group self-medication, just like soldiers under pressure using adrenaline to show heroism while involved in the dirty business of battle.
Everyone, even the winning side, is diminished by violence. Our local young people of the '70's and '80's were under the same kind of inhuman pressure as soldiers under fire.
I suppose I meant Open Family and its locally focussed sibling, "Emerald Hill Mission", to imitate the Aussie digger who has the reputation of never leaving a mate stranded when wounded. I meant both Open Family and Emerald Hill Mission to be like ANZAC Aussies.
I am more convinced than ever, since 9/11 and the ensuing global wrangle over the causes of terrorism, that the best way to tackle "evil" is for a few local good men and women to provide urgent and non judgmental support, even friendship, for their wounded fellow human beings.
To this end, my latest project, The Fr Bob Maguire Foundation honours the promise made 25 years ago, that any local person who left the "dark side" of society would never be deserted by us. ANZAC means "a fair go"!
The Fr. Bob Maguire Foundation 'associates' ( not clients as is the term used in the welfare industry!) are survivors of the last 30 years of neighbourhood social chaos.
I regret deeply that we lost 40 of our associates, all in the 1980's and all under 20 years of age.
This, in fact, is my triple bottom line, drawn in the sand, from which I launch all my projects.
I'm now in touch with about 20 survivors of that sad, bad and mad era of institutional stress and exploitation.
My original intention was to gather them into a group called VOISE ( victims of institutional stress and exploitation).
I settled, instead, for a personalised service delivery, The Fr. Bob Maguire Foundation, to these survivors.
This Australia Day I say sorry to 40 locals who died in the '80's - We patched you up - that's all we could manage. Forgive us. We won't forget. You could have been like ANZAC survivors, to fight another day.