The Difficult Return - Research project

UPDATE - It's all a go - The Difficult Return project launch and special presentation

YOUNG DIGGERS are inviting participants willing to be interviewed confidentially and be part of this project. All participants will remain anonomous and the information gained will be used to draw up programs to help our military families overcome this issue. please contact



Young Diggers will be working with the Griffith University on a new research project aimed to address mental health issues in the ADF

The Griffith University have received a grant which consists of: Year 1 - $75,000; Year 2 - $74,000 and Year 3 - $80,000.

Project title:
The difficult return: arts-based approaches to mental health literacy and building resilience with recently returned military personnel and their families

A copy of the project paper is available in PDF. Scroll to the bottom of the page to access.

18.5 percent of military personnel returning from war zones to ‘normal’ civilian life suffer mental health issues, which can lead to family breakdown, homelessness and other problems (Kang & Hyams, 2005; Hoge, Auchterlonie, & Milliken 2006). Almost 4000 Australian soldiers have returned home from active service in the last decade suffering from combat stress and mental health conditions (Parnell, 2010). A 2009 Australian independent government review warned a new generation of veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe mental health disorders will emerge in the next five years (Dunt, 2009), with as many as 1 in 4 likely to need mental health treatment (Parnell, 2010). Mental health issues in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) exist “within a culture of stigmatisation” with veterans often reluctant to admit to having a problem (Dunt, 2009, p.14). The independent 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 e.g. counselling services offered by the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA). The review identified a significant gap in our knowledge of educational interventions for veterans and their families (Dunt, 2009).

Through a new arts-based approaches and intervention methods, the CIs will address how veterans seek and gain support for mental health issues. Further, they will build on their substantial record in designing and implementing innovative interdisciplinary arts-based interventions to support people with mental health issues. The aims of the proposed research are to:

  • Develop, implement and evaluate the impact of digital stories in helping veterans and their families acquire mental health knowledge and challenge “cultures of stigmatisation” (Dunt, 2009, p.14).
  • Increase engagement of veteran population with mental health literacy initiatives leading to improved help-seeking motivation.
  • Create, implement and evaluate three arts-based resilience programs to support post-deployment serving and ex-serving military personnel and their families. These action research projects will contribute to new professional knowledge-building in the field of applied theatre, arts and health and veterans’ affairs more generally, about the potential efficacy of arts-based practice.
  • Identify and compare the factors involved in the efficacy of arts-based work, by testing programs in two different cultural and military contexts, Australia and the United States.
  • Synthesise an approach to effective interventions in arts-based practice with returning veterans and their families.
  • Engage in consultation with relevant stakeholders involved with the care of veterans and their families and develop policy recommendations for further support.

Arts and health is an emerging inter- and multi-disciplinary area of research, policy and practice. It includes a variety of ways in which the arts contribute to health, wellbeing and healthcare practice across a range of contexts (Camic, Clift, & Daykin, 2009). Arts-based work covers visual and digital art, performance (music, theatre, and dance) and creative literature. In this proposal it is aligned with concepts drawn from applied theatre (Balfour, 2009; Nicholson, 2005; Thompson, 2003) and community cultural development (Adams & Goldbard, 2005) as a practice to initiate change, with a community, through culture.

National benefit

A decade of armed conflict has left Australian troops battle-scarred and traumatised, with almost 4000 personnel – the equivalent of the country’s current overseas deployment – recording injuries and illnesses attributable to their time in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq (Parnell, 2010). In Australia there have been 80 PTSD and/or mental health related suicides in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) for the period 1997-2007 (Dunt, 2009). In the US there are 1000 attempted suicides by ex-military personnel every month (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2009). The rates of suicide, PTSD, psychiatric disorders, and diverse impairment of social adjustment (Kulka, 1988), combined with the possible implications of transgenerational effects of war-related trauma (Rosenheck and Fontana, 1998), further highlight the critical national and international benefit of early intervention work with serving and recently returned military personnel. The proposed research will deliver high-impact interventions with strong social and economic ramifications as it seeks to address a national and international problem of poor veteran mental health literacy and intervention practice. This will be achieved through developing innovative arts-based strategies to enhance the mental health literacy and resilience of military veterans and their families. The social benefits of an effective approach to working with veterans and their families will be the empowerment of participants to make choices that lead to positive pathways, and thus help individuals and groups to live healthy, productive and fulfilling lives (Research Priority 2: Promoting and Maintaining Good Health – Strengthening Australia’s social and economic fabric).

The research will impact on Government priorities, derived from the recommendations of the Dunt review, to assist veterans and their families to better negotiate the transition experience, combat feelings of isolation, develop self-sufficiency and resilience, and engage and interact fully with mainstream society. The research addresses the significant emotional, psychological, and experiential impacts of combat on serving and e-xmilitary personnel, and the consequences of these impacts on broader society (such as the associated economic costs) and on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s Defence Forces. Kessler (2000) has identified the effects on defence force personnel as work impairment, physical and mental health issues, and reduced life course opportunities (marital instability and earning capacity). Significantly, the research will also construct creative frameworks for stakeholder consultation, which will engage veteran stakeholders involved in veteran support from two countries not only to inform the design and implementation of the research, but also to be engaged in a dialogue for policy development and practical changes to elements of service delivery. The interdisciplinary background of the team and their proven track record in related arts and health areas ensure that they are uniquely positioned to undertake this important applied research to effect change in an area of acute social need.

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Difficult return project paper in PDF215.05 KB

difficult return

We invite you to take part in this project. please contact for details

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