“The Trouble with Martin O’Meara”

Philippa Martyr and Sophie Davison recently wrote an interesting article on Martin O’Meara for the journal Australasian Psychiatry (see link here). They “examined all available primary sources relating to the case of Martin O’Meara” and “found that O’Meara’s symptoms are not consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD” but it “is more likely that O’Meara developed a form of schizoaffective disorder, or long-lasting trauma-induced psychosis, after World War I.”

It’s a well written article, but it’s likely that Philippa and Sophie will be derided by some for questioning the folk-mythology that every returned serviceman with a mental illness must have had PTSD… correlation is definitely not an indicator of cause/effect.

Of course, many returned servicemen did suffer PTSD symptoms after the First World War (and every subsequent conflict) and many of these men (and, now, women) have legitimate reason to criticize successive governments for their failure to provide adequate treatment.

Interestingly, the cause that was recorded when he was admitted to the Claremont Mental Hospital in January 1919 was “religion”.

Regarding O’Meara, there is absolutely no evidence (or even hint of evidence) suggesting that he was suffering any form of mental illness before he arrived back in Australia in November 1918. On the contrary, he was seen by the Australian Government as a model soldier and this resulted him being returned to Australia (reluctantly) in 1918 to assist with recruitment.

On the subject of folk-mythology, O’Meara Myths abound… there is the myth that he was a stretcher-bearer (he was actually a machine gunner and then a sniper/scout), the myth that he wanted to return to Australia (he did so reluctantly, and was possibly promoted to sergeant as an incentive to return on leave to assist with recruitment), the myth that he spent 17 years in a straight jacket (he was seldom restrained after the early 1920s and actually left hospital on excursions/day trips during the 1930s, including attending an ANZAC Day service), and the myth that he came to Australia as a stoker on a ship (this one could be true, but there is no evidence to confirm it).

My forthcoming biography of Martin O’Meara will tell his story, stripping back some of the mythology.