Admiral Chris Barrie: PTSD & Fearless Outreach

Hello and welcome to Unstress. Now, this week's episode is about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and we are going to learn what a huge and growing problem this is. Something that affects almost every Australian in one way or another. 

My guest for today is Admiral Chris Barrie. Admiral Barrie retired from over 41 years of active service in the Royal Australian Navy, and as the Chief of the Defence Force(CDF) in July 2002. Since retirement from the military, he has concentrated his work on strategic leadership issues as a consultant, teacher and mentor.

He is the chairman of a charity (Fearless Outreach) committed to helping the one million Australians who suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder and focusing attention on the disorder, which impacts more individuals than you might imagine. I hope you enjoy the conversation I had with Admiral Chris Barrie AC.

Admiral Chris Barrie: PTSD & Fearless Outreach Introduction

Now, this week’s episode is about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and we are going to learn what a huge and growing problem this is. Something that affects almost every Australian in one way or another.

My guest today is Admiral Chris Barrie. Chris entered the Royal Australian Naval College in 1961, and his long and varied career across so many international and national roles eventually led him to be the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, the CDF, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, from 1998 until his retirement in 2002. Now he has received many various national and international awards.

Now I personally heard Chris speak at an International Conference on Psychedelic Therapies for the treatment of many protracted mental health issues, with particular reference to the use of that treatment for post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). His own since he retired actually in the last ten years, formed being involved with the, not for profit organisation Fearless Outreach and we’ll be talking about that. But PTSD takes a huge role, not just on returned servicemen and women, but on many Australians, and I found his presence considering his military role on that programme. Initially, surprising. When I listened to him, compelling. And I found it incredibly inspiring. I wanted to share some of that with you today. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Admiral Chris Barrie.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:00] For a start, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Now, this week’s episode is about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and we are going to learn what a huge and growing problem this is. Something that affects almost every Australian in one way or another.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:42] My guest today is Admiral Chris Barrie. Chris entered the Royal Australian Naval College in 1961, and his long and varied career across so many international and national roles eventually led him to be the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, the CDF, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, from 1998 until his retirement in 2002. Now he has received many various national and international awards.

Now I personally heard Chris speak at an International Conference on Psychedelic Therapies for the treatment of many protracted mental health issues, with particular reference to the use of that treatment for post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). His own since he retired actually in the last ten years, formed being involved with the, not for profit organisation Fearless Outreach and we’ll be talking about that. But PTSD takes a huge role, not just on returned servicemen and women, but on many Australians, and I found his presence considering his military role on that programme. Initially, surprising. When I listened to him, compelling. And I found it incredibly inspiring. I wanted to share some of that with you today. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Admiral Chris Barrie. Welcome to the show, Chris.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:02:18] Thanks, Ron. It’s nice to be here.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:02:21] Chris, you have an incredible career in the Defence Forces nationally, internationally. We’re going to be talking about stress and PTSD and all of that. But I wondered if you might just share with us a bit about your journey to lead, to eventually lead the Defence Forces in Australia.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:02:40] Well, it was a long journey. It lasted nearly 42 years and I guess no one was more surprised than me that at last, that long. So I’d say my early years were not, not hugely successful, but a lot of learning went on. I think the opportunity to go and serve as I did five years in the UK, five years in the United States, three years in India, and navigated a British ship for two years. I did a whole range of very unusual kinds of things. 

It was a surprise and I always felt throughout my career, in spite of the 32 different houses that I had to live in, that while I kept having fun and I don’t mean fun in a jocular sense, I made fun of being entertained by the work that I was doing and the kinds of people I had to work with that I continue to enjoy it and make the most of it.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:03:32] But it’s not without cost. So I’m now on my third marriage. My mother committed suicide when I was 16, just a year after I joined the Navy. And I joined the Navy not for any altruistic reason of serving the nation or anything like that, but because of a film. A film that I saw when I was 13 and a half years away. And I ended up joining the Navy when I was 15, and it was a long journey. 

I learnt a lot of things about leadership, about people. I learnt there were good leaders and I learnt there were bad leaders. And often reflected on what is the difference between good and bad?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:04:07] Hmm.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:04:07] Also being at sea, having a weather eye, being on the front foot, being prepared, thinking about what might go wrong in the next day, next week, next year, are part of my life as well. Though I joined the Navy to be a weapons electrical engineer officer, after my first sea stint in 1963, I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. And then I had a bit of a fight with the Navy over changing my branch to navigation because I said, “When you joined as an engineer, you can’t change the contract.”, and I said, “Well, watch me.” And eventually, it worked.

And then the second big thing was, I always wanted to go to a university. I wanted to be part of university life. But the early years in the Navy didn’t approve of young officers having a university degree unless they were going to be engineers. And so I was accused of being a disloyal officer and all sorts of things like that. But so my first undergraduate degree was not in my time at my expense despite the Navy. Then in the late 70s, I had a change of heart, so by the time I did my master’s degree, they wanted to pay for it much, so long that they get stuff and had their opportunity and they weren’t going to get it back.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:05:21] But I worked out too that a career in the Air Force has really three different parts to it. The first part is the early years when you are operating in small groups as a young officer, you’re expected to take charge and be a leader, whether it’s about five people or whether it’s a small ship of 20 people or even a larger ship with three to four hundred people. But it’s very focussed on the here and now. It’s focussed on getting a job done, and it’s in my world much more authoritarian than it is participative. 

And at around about the middle ranks, you start to change that a little bit and you start to learn about having to bring people on board who may not want to be there, having to get consensus in some decisions, having to separate out decision making from that in which there is going to be no argument and we have to do it right now to, well, you know, if we’re going to share out the cop box, maybe we ought to ask people what they want. That kind of world.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:06:23] And then at the top end of the organisation, you now become a corporate soldier. Your eyes don’t just set on those things for which you are responsible, I should look at the whole organisation. They should be reflective of your experience. And when you say things that are wrong, you should put up your hand and say so. And I think what I call the senior leadership group in a military organisation, everybody has a responsibility for what others are doing. 

It’s not that those you own it, but it is a sense of stewardship. It is a sense of making as good an organisation as you might expect. So a huge challenge. A lot of fun. But I have to say, after I retired, I would say in Oxford University and other places where I was teaching Leadership, the best thing about a military career is the people you get to work with. They are fabulous, fantastic, and it still brings joy to my heart when, you know, younger people will come out and say, “You don’t know me. So but I know you and I really enjoyed some of those things you did.” I mean, life doesn’t get better than that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:07:32] And you, you were very young when you joined. Yeah. And I imagine well, just by virtue of the logistics, most people are very young when they join. I was going to ask you what motivates an individual to serve? Is that kind of inspiration of watching a film that you want to be part of the main motivation? Or were there other issues that motivated you?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:07:54] Yes. Look, it is a secret. Aside from the film that I saw was called the Battle of the River Plate…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:08:01] Okay.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:08:02] …and it was a film account of the sinking of the Graf Spee in the port of Montevideo in the first year of the Second World War. And four years ago, I happened to go from Montevideo and have a look to sort of remember. And the reason why I saw that movie was Peter Finch, who was one of the principal actors was an old boy from our school, and we were all taken along to the State Theatre in Sydney to see this movie. 

Well, up until that time I was going to be a brain surgeon, and there ought to be a lot of people around Australia grateful that I never did. But, but you know, that was a total change of career aspiration and all that.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:08:46] So it was that idea of being at sea, being in command, getting things done, strategy, if you like, little air strategy, those kinds of things, I think I had an appeal. It’s a long road to get to the top and to be in charge of strategy and all of those sorts of things, but that opportunity now, many years later, when I was serving in the UK, I lived in the house, of which Commodore Harwood, who was the Commander of the Battle of the River Plate… 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:16] Oh, wow. Wow.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:09:17] …so, you know, it’s amazing how coincidences occur in your life. Totally unintended. But you know, when you pick up a rock and look underneath, you never know what you’re going to find.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:27] Yeah. Now you mentioned, you know, you learnt along the way and now you’re actually teaching or you have taught leadership and what defines a good leader and a bad leader. What defines a good leader?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:09:40] Well, while I say in my class is if you guys are in the airport and go into the bookshop, you’re going to find lots of books on my recipe book for being a leader. Mm-Hmm. It’s all rubbish because all the way, the ship is a journey. And good leaders, I think, evolve over time, and they’re very much reflective of the situation in which they find themselves. But I would say there are a number of characteristics that make good leaders. I think firstly, they’re authentic. 

I dislike intensely people who are leaders who are actors because they lack the authenticity of the real moment. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with good leaders admitting mistakes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with good leaders appealing to the followers to help them out of a jam. You know, that’s actually what military commanders are about. So we have a job to do here, I can’t do this all by myself. I need you guys to help me too. And sharing the problems with other people I think makes a good leader too so that we all know what the vision and mission are. 

We all know where we’re going and we’re not left in much doubt. And finally, I think good leaders stand up for what I believe in. You know, as I said earlier when you are on the ship and your leadership group in the military, your job is to when you say things that are not right, put off your hand and say so and try to get something done about it. I think that’s true of leaders in all walks of life. And of course, that then invites the question, “What about bad leaders?”

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:11:18] Well, thank you.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:11:20] Well, firstly, bad leaders, I think are careerists, and they’re very interested in their own opportunities and of the opportunities of others. So I used to give people just one piece of advice. “Every job you get to do, try to do the best that you can. And life is full of people who have different talents, and sometimes you don’t know what your best talents are going to look like, other people might stop that, but you may not know. 

So I think everybody should just do the best that they can. And I think the rest will follow.” So what I mentor people these days, I talk about having a vision mission statement. You know, what do I really want to do? I don’t go to write what my life story really looks like when I finish up and how am I going to get there? So where am I at now? What are the things I need to do? What are the personal development opportunities I need? Maybe not doing work harder. 

Maybe climbing Mount Everest. Maybe sailing around the world. Maybe doing something very different, but challenging yourself to see what you can do and what you can learn from all that. So, yeah, I think that’s the thing. Bad leaders look after themselves, their careers. Everybody in the organisation is responsible for it. Everything went wrong in this organisation except me. And I tell you what we say a lot of it today.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:12:49] Does that even get me started or maybe we should, but we may not have enough time.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:12:53] Oh, we won’t.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:12:54] We won’t. We won’t. But it’s interesting because one of the things that strike me never having been in the armed forces is that armed forces really are the pointy end of politics. I mean, literally, when a conflict occurs beyond the rhetoric, people actually put their lives on the line and that must involve an unwavering resolve or is that what defines discipline?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:13:19] Well, I think it’s… Well, Ron, I mean, you’ve shifted to a really interesting question here. So there’s a group in Australia now that are trying to amend our laws to make sure that a decision to go to war outside of Australia must be an act of the Parliament. And it really follows a lot of unhappiness. From February 2003, when John Howard alone decided to go to Iraq, the Defence Force that I commanded was an all-volunteer force. In other words, we paid people to be in our military, we asked people to join us, but they were all volunteers.

If you go back in history, Australian history, after federation, we had compulsory militia service for all men. In the First World War, I had an obligation to serve if Australia was attacked. In Australia, anyone who went to the Western Front was a volunteer and there were two efforts to try and turn that into conscription. And they both filed not by that much, but they did file. Mm-Hmm. So when you go overseas and it’s not the defence of the realm that we’re talking about, well, it’s the War Powers Group is all about is that that must be an act of the parliament, not the decision of a prime minister.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:14:38] Now, in the immediate aftermath of both world wars, plenty of people who were politicians had military experience. But you look around now and frankly, you know, American presidents, several have been dropped off this. You know, it’s a big question about their right to send people off the battle when they have no experience, and it’s true here, too. So that’s underway. I and the leader of the US who established that group was my former co-leader in defence, Full Barrack, who sadly has now passed away, but after the decision to go to Iraq, Full became very engaged that Australians ought to have an act of the parliament before they are sent on expeditions overseas.

It also rolls into what question the question of compulsory service and what is the role of that in Australian life today? It’s still on the statute books. Many Australians won’t know that, but it is still possible to have conscription in this country because it’s still in the statute book. And it’s not very politically popular, of course, and there are plenty of reasons for that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:15:55] Mm-Hmm.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:15:56] But I go back now and I point to the involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 20 years of the all-volunteer force being sent to war, we might call it conflict, not war, but it was war. You can be killed by a bullet in Afghanistan or Iraq, as well as anywhere else. Using all volunteers, some of those volunteers went up to 12 times. That is longer than anyone who served in the First or Second World War overseas.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:16:31] Wow.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:16:32] And apparently, the volunteers and their families have borne the brunt of the burden, if you like, of those commitments. And frankly, I think that’s wrong. I don’t think anyone should have been sent more than a couple of times. Given the circumstances and I think we should have found a better way. But it was an article of faith in 2001, right before George W. Bush decided to go to Iraq that we would not use conscription.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:00] Hmm. Mm hmm. Yes. I mean, this actually brings me a surprising moment because I’m a dentist. My background is Dentistry. And in 2000, you were head of Defence Forces in Australia from 1998 to 2002.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:17:18] Yes.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:19] Yes. Which included all the Armed Forces, not just the Navy.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:17:23] No, I commanded all three.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:24] And my humble opinion at that time when we went to Iraq, as a dentist, was where is the exit strategy? Where is the precedent of resolving a Middle East conflict? You know, based on history, you know what is informing this decision to go in there? And that was the opinion of our humble, ignorant, militarily, ignorant dentist. And you had just finished your role as Head of Defence Force.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:17:58] Yes. Well, I was…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:18:01] What a moment in my life, Chris, to be able to ask that question. Well, I’m humbled, humbled by actually.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:18:07] Yes. Well, now here’s an interesting story. I come out of the Defence Force that did the security operation that liberated East Timor. I mean, the Nation. Mm-Hmm. And Australia, a historic moment really, commanded they need a national coalition force of up to 22 countries to do that work for the United Nations. Now, that was I… It wasn’t a conflict like Iraq, it was an invasion like Iraq. 

It was done with the agreement of the government of Indonesia. It was done with the oversight of the United Nations and it was commanded by Australia. So I commanded that. Peter Cosgrove worked for me, as do they are Australian national commanders, and I was responsible for our prime minister, who in turn was responsible for making reports to the UN.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:19:07] We went with an exit strategy. The exit strategy was to get the job done and get back to a United Nations operation, which would be run entirely by them, by the United Nations, after the immediate security situation had been resolved. I spent the next seven years dining out on that story in the United States, even after the invasions of Iraq and the second round in Afghanistan.

Now, it was also the same year when we first went to Afghanistan in 2001 in the post 9/11 War, and we went to Afghanistan to do just one thing eliminates the possibility of Al Qaeda having training and being able to put together more things like 9/11. We had no other mission. So after I retired, three weeks after that, I was in Oxford University, working in the strategic leadership cell. 

And I found myself being asked by many, many British people, what about this unfolding situation in Iraq? And I argued that firstly, I hadn’t seen anything after the time I left service. That said, there was a job to be done in Iraq. You know, we’d been motoring along, we weren’t very satisfied with what Saddam Hussein was doing. But did I say anything that said, we have to go and do a job in Iraq? No, I didn’t.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:20:51] Between July of 2002 and March 2003, there must have been something that, we were told, WMD made the course for war very hot. And I said, when I look at it politically, what joins two right of centre politicians like John Howard and George W. Bush to left of centre politician like Tony Blair if it isn’t to share the understanding of a job to be done?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:21:26] Hmm. Hmm.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:21:28] So that kind of made sense. And that was the argument I used. But a first-class I taught in Washington, D.C., in 2004, I had in my class at the National Defence University, a young officer who had been sent on the mission to find WMD in Iraq. He was a navy seal and he told my class, “I know that the administration told lies.”.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:22:01] Wow, yeah.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:22:03] That was a very powerful message. That it was a fabrication because of what Bob Woodward now tells us was a decision in a post 9/11 war that we’re going to go and finish the job in Iraq.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:22:17] Mm hmm. Yes. Well, that could be, we could go on from that point and discuss a whole lot, but I wanted to come back because we are talking about stress and all that because coming back from a war zone and from events and images, that must be horrific. Even if you’re highly trained, and even if those incidents are every day, how are our service people trained before and after engagement to deal with that kind of stress?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:22:47] I think the first point to be made, and I think it’s really important for the kind of work I do now, not for profit space but uhm, military people are trained to the highest pitch possible. Highly professional for many systems to anticipate what needs to be done in combat and a lot of that training is, you know, it’s built up. It becomes much more realistic and much more urgent. 

The closer you get to a commitment to the conflict. So to come back to those deployments into Iraq and Afghanistan, you know, there’s a process to getting those people ready to go. So they’re worked up, they’re ticked off as capable and then off they go. So they are well-equipped, but I think there’s also now a spiritual dimension. So when I was […] one of the… It took us 18 months of hard work to get a vision’s statement for the military. 

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:23:57] Now vision statement was pretty simple. “A force for good, a force to be reckoned with, and a force to win.” And in my mind, that whole question of a force for good was fundamental to the kind of defence force that I wanted to command in Australia. And I felt that our young women and our young men who go off, do work on behalf of Australia in the Defence Force should feel that what they are doing is being part of a force for good. 

They are there to make a difference and be good. And that’s a moral compass question. Yeah. So the moral compass is an important curve. Now I am not underestimating the violence that occurred on the battlefield, and I’m not trying to set aside the effect of people having to deal with the horrible things I do. But provided they fail, have been part of a force for good, I think it makes quite a big difference.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:24:57] If I lose that moral compass, that sense of moral compass, then I think you get some very telling bad outcomes. Now I saw that in the post-Vietnam War period, I went to Vietnam, but I was lucky being Navy that we used to hear on the radio circuits what was going on the ground. And I also know that there were a lot of things that went bad in Vietnam in the process of the conduct of the war. 

As it also happens in the first and second world wars, and people were scarred by some of the things I went through, some of the experiences I saw. But we sort of double up on that. In more recent times, I worked at the Australian National University against someone who is really into this. Professor Bowman says, you know, “One of the mistakes I think we made when we sent people to those theatres of war was the idea that they’d go out on patrol and do horrible things and then come back and talk to the family and say nothing has gone wrong.” 

And you do this time after time, after time, and then you do it not on the first segment, but the 12th deployment. So does this, does this muck around with your head? Well, I think it does. To be honest. I feel that we have let our people down unconscionably by too many deployments in unwinding after an operation.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:26:35] One of the most important ingredients in dealing with post-traumatic stress is sleep. I think it’s well known that if you witness a traumatic event and you can get 15 hours of good sleep immediately afterwards, you will likely not be affected by PTSD.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:26:53] Interesting.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:26:53] Of course, that’s not possible in military operations. It’s not possible if you are in the SCS it’s not possible if you’re a cop let’s say there are plenty of walks of life where you don’t get that 15 hours sleep. And so there is potential there to suffer from PTSD as a consequence of operations. And that’s the kind of not for profit I now lead, not for veterans, but for all Australians in dealing with their post-traumatic stress disorder issues.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:27:20] Mm-Hmm.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:27:20] And by my calculus, I would say, you know what? Veterans have a Department of Veterans Affairs. What about people who have been affected by domestic violence? They don’t get anything like that. They’re on their own. They have to find their own way through a mental health system that’s not very good and trying to figure out what to do. For our veterans, I also come out of an organisation where it is about working with each other, working in teams and working with other good people. 

And I think in the post-conflict world and the post-separation world, I need to keep going into those kinds of groups to share stories, to share experiences, to make themselves aware they’re not Robinson Crusoe. They’re not on an island all by themselves. They are other people. You know, I’ve always, always felt that no matter how bad I feel about anything, there are plenty of people who are a lot worse off than me. That’s true through life. And so, you know, you got to find your way through to a whole bunch of things that are good for you. Share the stories. Go and talk to people. Don’t keep it to yourself. All that. So that’s where I go.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:28:33] So, Chris, you mentioned you’re not for profit. Tell us about the not for profit organisation that looking at this Post-Traumatic Stress problem?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:28:41] Yes. Look, it was 2012-2013. You know, I was becoming very concerned about the extended deployments and what was happening to the mental health of our returning service people. And I thought I got to do something about this. And I had a landmark conversation with now Sir Angus Houston, who was at that time he was the chair of the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board. Mm-Hmm. 

And we discussed the problems and we agreed that PTSD was a very big issue coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq. I was sent off to Sydney to talk to Professor Max Bennett of the Sydney Brain and Mind Centre and got myself highly educated about PTSD and other mental health conditions.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:29:35] Then I ran into a colleague of mine in a fish shop in Canberra, whose brother had died of the treatment of PTSD. And so we started thinking about what we might do, and we started to talk to people about PTSD and Ron, here’s the gig. For the last seven plus years, I have yet to meet an Australian who does not have a story about PTSD. And it might be about themselves or their family or another relative or a school friend or somebody who lives down the road or somebody, I mean, it’s everyone. And I’ve met trauma surgeons who have PTSD. I have met people who treat PTSD, who have PTSD. You know, it’s everywhere.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:30:29] But let’s go to the ones I see now in the organisation that I’m chair of is called Fearless Outreach.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:30:37] Mm-Hmm.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:30:39] We adopted that name because we want people to be fearlessly dealing with the issues of exercising control of their lives. And we want the people who live with the suffering from PTSD to get some help, too, in how to manage the situation they now dealing with. And we figure that taking all the people from affected by natural disasters, affected by violent crime, including sexual assaults and domestic violence, and all of that. 

People affected by war service, SCS, and those firefighters, all of those. Whole communities, even people who have lost their jobs in some situations, all have PTSD. They are all struggling with how to exercise control of their lives. I need all the help I can get to do the best I can. What we say is don’t just take lots of pills, don’t go and drink a lot of booze. Think about exercise. Think about the arts. Think about talking to other people. That’s what we do. We encourage people to join together and share stories through what we’ve now run to national conversations.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:31:57] Well, that’s what we do. We get somebody to seed a story from personal experience and then we have a conversation about it. And then the people will start to open up, talk to each other and talk about their dark secrets and what’s happened to them. And then what they discover is other people have had similar experiences and other people have had good and bad consequences from trying to deal with their PTSD.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:32:27] Because this is what I found so, actually I’ll be honest, surprising to see you on the programme and actually compelling and inspiring all in one go because of PTSD. You know, it’s sort of you could imagine a soldier coming back from a war zone and literally dropping into a domestic scene that is so foreign from what they’ve just been. It would be traumatic that experience in itself. 

And if someone has a violent experience or a rape or something, the moment they walk out of the house that that occurred into, it’s almost like the same experience. And I can only imagine what first responders in ambulance and fire experience similar life-altering experiences. What are.. You said that person had died because of the treatment of PTSD. What was the treatment? What is the treatment that is standard and accepted in our society today?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:33:28] Well, I think there are plenty of options and the options are growing. So that particular incident occurred many years ago, and it was from the whilst from taking the pills to treat depression rather than PTSD. These days I’ve seen cognitive behavioural therapy at work, so I know how psychiatrists will deal with people. I met a person down in the Illawarra who had been 10 months in hospital, being treated for PTSD and who was able to claim “I’m not cured, but I’m now in control.”.

And so what’s interesting about PTSD is you’re not born with it. It comes from a lived experience, and it means that each case is different because we are all different. The traumas are different. Sometimes that it’s a single trauma, sometimes it’s complex trauma, sometimes as comorbidity. So it might be coupled with other mental health conditions like depression and so on. 

So, you know, it’s a very, very complicated jigsaw puzzle, but we stand by saying… Right now, being able to exercise control of what some would call the red haze of PTSD is really important. Being able to take yourself into a place of meditation or to go and listen to a nice piece of music or to just go for a walk. Lots of things. And there isn’t a single recipe for anybody. It’s a journey again. And right now, we’re on the cusp of being able to use micro psychedelics to do things perhaps to cure PTSD.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:35:28] So Professor Jim Lagopoulos at the Thompson Neuroscience Institute in the Sunshine Coast tells me that the only way we’ll ever cure post-traumatic stress disorder is through the use of psychedelic drugs. Properly administered by properly trained therapists and all that sort of thing. Now that that is a right offer of hope. Especially to people who are sufferers and even to families. You know, it’s a great offer of hope, and I’m very disappointed that we have not yet been able to get a change in the scheduling of those drugs so that we can do more research.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:36:13] I mean, I’ve been following it as well as I’m sure you have through Mind Medicine Australia and the TGA have knocked it back yet again. And it’s actually is disturbing, although it’s confronting to see how chronic disease is dealt with in our society acceptably and when cures are proposed that perhaps aren’t patentable and profitable. Well, you know, it doesn’t seek approval and yet often drugs which just come onto the market are patentable are quickly accepted. That’s a whole other story.

Let’s just focus on the potential of this because you have seen cases of, you know, within your organisation of Fearless Outreach and of treatment. What has been some of those experiences that you’ve seen firsthand, you know, with some of the people you’ve come into contact with?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:37:09] Yeah. Look, I would have to say, you know, many, many years ago, I was a smoker. In 1970, October 1970, I gave up smoking, not because I wanted to save money, not because it might be better for my health, but because I had come to a view that it was an addiction that I didn’t need in my life. 

And it took a fair degree of willpower to make that happen. But as time went on, I became more and more convinced that, you know, if I’ve invested six months of smoke-free, I wasn’t about to let that go down the gurgler, et cetera. And so these days, you know, I haven’t had a cigarette since then.

So I think with PTSD, learning to not become a victim of PTSD, it’s really important. And so in Fearless Outreach, we talk about having a management protocol. We talk about a toolbox, and in that toolbox, we can save all music and the arts and diet, exercise, not too much alcohol. And we would argue, forget the pills, try to get off the pills because if you get off the pills, you would be in better control. No dependence, so to speak.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:38:46] So that is not easy. And the people we’ve seen in our national conversation, some of whom have been really down at the bottom end of society and have lifted themselves, they do it by the power of will. And, you know, their stories are very compelling about the day they sort of said, “You know, this isn’t taking me anywhere. I need to do something to change my life, and I’m going to do it.” And you know, they are the kinds of stories. They’re really inspirational when you really hear what some people can do.

At the last national conversation, we have a speaker, not from Australia, but a speaker who had been gang-raped. And her story was very interesting. “For over 30 years, I was a victim until I learnt to forgive.” It blew me away. I’ve never really thought about that dimension, but now when I look back on some of the other stories I’ve heard, I think there is a role for forgiveness too in the toolbox.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:40:02] Hmm.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:40:03] So that’s where we’re headed and we would really like it and we know that Jim Lagopoulos and his team up with the Thompson issue that they’re doing all sorts of very interesting research in better ways of managing previous our battle open to PTSD wing. And I think they’re going to have 25 beds there for people who are in need of help. There are beds down South Coast Private Hospital where I saw the cognitive behavioural therapy at work. So yeah, I think it’s starting to open up more. But gee, we still got a lot of work to do. A lot of work.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:40:45] Hmm. Well, Chris, you know, someone was suffering from that. I guess the point if they were suffering from PTSD is to reach out to retailers. That’s what advice would you give. What’s the biggest challenge for people with PTSD, you know, suffering from PTSD?

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:41:02] Look, I think the most important thing is to go and find an expert. I mean, I’m not a professional and I don’t pretend to be. The people in medical practise that I go and see are the people I trust. So what I would argue is the first point here is to have a trusted GP, someone who can go and talk to somebody you’d be frank too. There’s no point going and papering over the cracks when you go to your GP and have a conversation about your health or your mental health. 

We have a mental health system that’s piggybacked on the whole physical health system, and it’s not very good for about second, well, for about the second worst mental health country in the world, which I just think is a stunning indictment of our system and we need to do better at it.

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:41:54] But really number one, find a trusted GP and while working through the GP you’re going to find an expert mental health treatment specialist that you can work with now, it may not be the first one you go on site. Because again, you’ve got to have trust between you and that person to deal with your situation and then you’ve got to be open to doing what you’re being advised to do. So don’t go on and get trusted professional advice and then pretend, you know better. I mean, how dumb is that?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:32] Well, Chris, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and thank you also for the incredible service you’ve given our country. But even more so, thank you for the way you’ve gone once you’ve retired because this need is much bigger than any of us could even imagine. I was blown away when you shared that, you know that statistic, the withies that we’re almost… There’s not a single person who isn’t really affected one way or another. Thank you for your work through Fearless Outreach. We’ll have links to it, of course. Thank you. 

Admiral Chris Barrie: [00:43:07] Yeah. Yeah, it’s great. All right, then. Thanks, Ron. And thank you everybody for listening in.


Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:43:15] When I heard Admiral Chris Barrie, he’s the only admiral of that rank, he’s the only admiral in Australia at the moment, retired though. And he is a Chief of Defence Force (CDF) was that acronym that he was using. When I heard him discuss PTSD, not just in the framework of returned servicemen, and I did hear a statistic that in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts war, there had been something like 50 or maybe just over 50 personnel killed in action, but over 500 have committed suicide. 

And that is a shocking and disturbing statistic because people in the services are literally putting their lives on the line and we need to be caring for and resolving these issues.

It was interesting that he said if you got 15 hours of sleep, you were unlikely to be as traumatically affected by that, of course, but who, after witnessing something that is traumatic, can sleep 15 hours? Well, you know, and who on the battlefield would be in a comfortable enough space to sleep 15 hours? I mean, ironically, I was just away this weekend in a bed and breakfast, and it was so uncomfortable. 

I didn’t sleep for two nights and I was almost catatonic when I got home. So I can only imagine what weeks and months of not sleeping well after a traumatic incident does for one’s mental health which brings us back to the five pillars of health that are about building resilience.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:44:56] The thing that is so inspiring about psychedelic therapy is that it is about resolving issues. Chris said it very quickly. We should have paused, but it is worth repeating that in psychedelic therapies, we are talking about curing PTSD, curing major chronic depression. And this brings us back to the trust in science. Now you may or may not know, but the psychedelics the MDMA is under supervision have been sought to receive TGA approval for the last year and a half or two years, at least, and it has been rejected. 

It has been rejected by the TGA is insufficient evidence etc etc. And I remind you also the drugs that have emerged in this pandemic, like Molnupiravir, Remdesivir, which have limited scientific evidence provided by the manufacturer, are immediately embraced by the TGA. Not only immediately embraced, but the government then puts in orders for these new expensive, patentable drugs.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:08] And here we have a disorder that affects every single Australian in one way or another. And that’s a big statement. But I say it because you probably know somebody who is suffering from PTSD. You may have somebody in your family who suffers from PTSD. You may have a friend, you may have a relative and that affects you. You are affected by that. 

And that condition is being treated by drugs — antidepressants, typically, and we did that episode with Dr Martin Whitely about Overprescribing Madness in Australia and the use of prescription medication to manage, I say, manage, not cure, manage chronic mental health issues. And that was an episode which we probably should couple with this one in.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:47:02] We may well do that, but anyway, we will have links to Chris’s not for profit group Fearless Outreach, and the web page is and we will have links in the show notes to his very important not for profit organisation dealing with post-traumatic stress, not just in servicemen, but for all Australians.

So I hope you found that interesting, inspiring. I hope this finds you well. You will not be listening to this before Christmas, but I hope you have had a good and restful summer break, and I hope 2022 brings us a very happy and healthy year. I’ve always said that this pandemic is an incredible opportunity for us to all focus on health and reduce co-morbidities, improve resilience and health, and I still believe that that is the case. I hope this finds you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.