04:48pm Sunday 23 February 2020

Arts study to help mental health of returned soldiers

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The four-year project will build new insights into arts-based mental health literacy and resilience training.

Griffith University Chair in Applied Theatre Professor Michael Balfour says almost 4000 Australian soldiers have returned home from active service in the past decade suffering from combat stress and mental health conditions.

“In addition to the human cost, the wave of service members with mental illness costs the country about $1.9 billion in direct medical care and lost productivity in the first two years after they return from deployment,” he said.

A 2009 Australian independent government review identified poor mental health literacy rates in the ADF coupled with low help-seeking motivation and reluctance to draw on traditional forms of support such as counselling.

The project will be the first international project of its kind to use arts-based methods to break down the stigma of mental health issues in the military.

“There is a considerable history of arts-based practice with military personnel, dating back to the First World War,” Professor Balfour said.

“Our research will explore the benefits of integrating different creative approaches.”

Researchers will work with three veteran welfare organisations in Australia and the US which have a strong online presence and a large membership base.

“In partnership with veteran support groups and other stakeholders, we’ll design, implement and evaluate online digital stories combined with a web-based mental health education program,” Professor Balfour said.

“The stories will feature personal narratives from veterans and family members sharing their post-deployment experiences to explain a range of mental health issues and illustrate the efficacy and importance of seeking treatment.”

The digital stories will be supported with links to information and interactive forums to help veterans and their families recognise risk factors, specific disorders and to seek help when needed.

The study is funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant.

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