Degree Name

Doctor of Psycology(Clinical)


School of Psychology


The impact of potentially traumatic events on Australian Navy personnel is described through 2 studies of the long-term psychological experiences of survivors of a fatal fire in HMAS Westralia in 1998. Study 1 reports on the prevalence of indicated post traumatic stress disorder at three times since the fire, ranging from four months to six years, and general psychological distress and alcohol problems at six years. There were no significant associations between gender and military rank, and mental health disorders. A model of how mental health can be maintained in the aftermath of exposure to potentially traumatic events, based on personal construct theory, is then described. This model is tested in Study 2, using a sample of participants from Study 1 who maintained positive mental health in the years after the fire. Narratives provided by participants were analysed using content analysis scales, to assess positive emotions, emotions of transition, and social relating. Experiencing positive emotions, having resolved guilt, overt hostility directed outwards, and depression, and reporting positive interpersonal relationships based on perceived resources and intimacy, were associated with positive mental health. These results support aspects of the proposed model and are consistent with personal construct theory. Strategies for the management of Navy personnel involved in future potentially traumatic events, based on these findings are discussed. The focus on positive mental health rather than disorder, and the use of content analysis scales are unique features of this study.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.