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Role to play in mental well-being of troops

February 11, 2012

A report released today, examining the impact of entertainment on the well-being of UK Armed Forces, finds that it plays an important role in sustaining morale, and hence may help protect servicemen against psychological disorders.

The report was written by Edgar Jones, Professor of the History of Medicine and Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London for The British Forces Foundation (BFF), and takes a historical look at the impact of entertainment on troop morale from World War I to the conflict in Afghanistan today.

Professor Jones says: “No single factor can be guaranteed to raise morale, but those that do, will undoubtedly have some effect on mental well-being. Whilst entertainment cannot, and does not, provide absolute protection against the psychological problems associated with war, it does have a role to play in protecting service personnel against mental health problems.” Download the report

Studies conducted of US armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate a clear association between falling morale and rising mental health problems. Research found that over a 12 month tour by US service personnel, morale fell to a low at 10 months, the time at which mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rose to a peak.

UK deployments are much shorter than those of US service personnel and currently stand at six months. To date, mental health problems experienced by UK Armed Forces have remained relatively low – PTSD rates average at 3% but rise to 7% for front-line troops. A number of factors help protect against mental health problems including tours that aren’t excessively long with significant gaps in between for recuperation and training, confidence in commanders and equipment, feeling supported by friends and family, and a good level of social cohesion within the soldier’s unit.

Many factors are indicative of poor morale, such as desertion, absenteeism, disciplinary offences and sickness. Factors that can raise or sustain morale are confidence in commanders, unit cohesion, belief in the task and the fair provision of rest and recreation.

In order for entertainment to have the most positive effect on morale, its provision must be perceived as equitable and fair. The report finds that disproportionate delivery, for example focusing only on rear areas rather than the front-line, poor quality entertainment or entertainment that isn’t tailored to a military audience are likely to do more harm than good.

Professor Jones adds: “Only recently have we started to survey welfare packages delivered to UK troops. We hope that this data will in future allow us to better understand the contribution these packages make to the well-being of service personnel, and quantify how long the effect good quality entertainment has on morale lasts.”

Mark Cann, Director of the BFF says: “We are very pleased with this report as it illustrates the positive impact entertainment can have. Professor Jones opens up important areas for further research but these findings are significant and should be of real benefit to the military and those concerned with the well-being of our Armed Forces.

“Sending the biggest names in entertainment, free, to the frontline as volunteers with the support of the British public has a proven effect on morale, so long as it is carried out in the right way. We at the British Forces Foundation hope this report will bring about greater understanding of what we do and the contribution our work has had. We hope the findings might encourage a review of how military entertainment is conducted in future so that our work may be as effective as possible.”

The report was commissioned at the request of The BFF and carried out by King’s College London. The BFF received specific restricted funding for the report from the D’Oyly Carte Charity Trust and general funding from a number of other organisations that support the charity in order to maintain its independence. Download the report

Report on the BBC website

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