AHSW's Director, Trustees, and Members reflect on various aspects of arts, health and wellbeing.

All Party Parliamentary Group’s Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry

AHSW Director Alex Coulter passes on reflections from a recent roundtable on the Arts and Post-traumatic Stress at the House of Lords.

I have written about some of the round tables previously and themes have covered the arts in relation to the Care Act, Wellbeing, Dementia, and Palliative Care. The most recent was on the Arts and Post-traumatic Stress. I wasn’t able to be there due to illness, but I have a recording which makes for fascinating listening. Unfortunately we aren’t allowed to make it public (House of Lords’ rules) and the minutes will be rather anodyne in comparison.

Lord West of Spithead chaired the discussion. Formerly a First Sea Lord, Chief of Defence Intelligence and a NATO Commander, he himself experienced difficulties after his ship, HMS Ardent, was sunk in the Falklands War. Veterans spoke about their experience of mental dissociation, isolation and difficulty in adjusting to civilian life and how crucial the arts have been in their recovery. The rules of engagement for military and civilian life are completely different and it is that transition that is so hard to manage. At Combat Stress it is an average of 13 years after leaving the forces before people ask for help. Combat Stress uses art therapy to process traumatic memories. Families can bear the brunt of the difficulties and we heard from the Military Wives Choir and military wives working with writers to tell their stories. The MOD is very good at working with those who need help while they are still in service, but it is in civilian life that the support mechanisms are lacking.

Professor Peter Kinderman, President-Elect of the British Psychological Society, argued that we should move away from a ‘them and us’ attitude to trauma and mental health, there is Only Us, and the arts can help medical professionals to see problems from a different perspective. He enthused about Ridiculusmus’s new production ‘Give Me Your Love’ about Post-traumatic Stress and the therapeutic effects of MDMA, which is at Battersea Arts Centre until 30th January. There is also a one night performance on 3rd February at the heavenly Lyric Theatre in my old home town of Bridport, Dorset.

Professor Nigel Osborne talked of his inspirational work with traumatised children, during the war in Bosnia Herzogovenia, and subsequently with many others who have been traumatised by war in conflicts around the globe. He spoke of the immersion of war, the smell and the touch of it, and that one way to respond is with another immersion, but a good one, which the arts can offer.

I was struck by how nuanced the discussion was between people coming from many different perspectives, revealing a rich and interwoven field of practice that incorporates everything from one to one intensive therapy to artists determined to change the way society perceives those who have experienced the trauma of war.

Danish Wounded Warriors use embodied dance practice to tackle the effects of trauma on the whole organism: mind, body and spirit. Combat Veteran Players began with the idea that breath control in Shakespearian verse would be beneficial for veterans and has now developed into a highly skilled group of trained actors. Home Front is a project that uses comedy to open up the subject and challenge stigma. The writer, Kevin Dyer, talked of his father’s experience as a no. 3 Commando on D-Day and his 50 years of silence about what happened to him on Pegasus Beach. He seeshis job as to pick away at that silence and tell the story for the whole of our society.

It was extremely moving to hear the testimonies. They will feed into Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt’s research for the Inquiry and help inform the policy proposals we develop. The minutes should be finished by the end of next week and you can see all the documentation from the round tables on the APPG webpages .

Alexandra Coulter

Director, Arts & Health South West

January 2016

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