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Arts and Health Australia

Michael Balfour

Surprising histories: the arts and social health of returning military personnel

In the last couple of years thousands of military personnel from USA, UK, Europe and Australia have returned from Afghanistan and the conflict in Iraq. Between 18-30% of those returning from war zones to civilian life can be expected to suffer mental health issues, which can lead to family breakdown, homelessness and other problems.

The Difficult Return was an arts-based response to this issue and involved collaboration between arts, public health and military researchers at Griffith University, University of Queensland and Chapman University, California. The project, funded by the Australian Research Council, developed practice in three areas: awareness - online digital films; motivation - the development of The Return, a documentary theatre piece featuring ex-servicemen and actors; and action - an applied counselling program that used elements of role-play and enactment, in partnership with the University of British Columbia, Canada.

This paper will explore how the project used songs, social media, films distributed via youtube, documentary theatre, and role-play enactments with groups to improve help seeking and support military personnel in their transition process.

Michael BalfourMichael Balfour

Michael’s research expertise is in the social applications of theatre: theatre in communities, social institutions and areas of disadvantage and conflict. He is the recipient of four recent Australian Research Council funded projects: The Difficult Return; Captive Audiences: the impact of performing arts programs in Australian prisons and Playful Engagement and Dementia. Previously Michael was a researcher on In Place of War and worked extensively in prisons in UK and Europe, developing a range of cultural programs. Recent publications include: a Special Edition of Arts and Health (6,1) Arts, Social Health and the Military, Applied Theatre: Drama, Refugees and Resilience, Bloomsbury Methuen, and Refugee Performance: Practical Encounters, Intellect Press.