According to new research by King’s College London, presenting troops with live performances from well-known entertainers is essential for raising spirits and distracting soldiers from the often immense stresses of war. It may also be able to protect against the risk of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress syndrome.
Historically, entertainment has always been an important part of military life. During both world wars, popular public figures such as Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields and Harry Lauder all performed for thousands of British troops on leave in the UK.
Harry Lauder, a leading music hall artiste who lost his son to war in 1916, was the first entertainer to perform on the frontline itself. This was no mean feat during the dangerous and exhausting conditions of trench warfare. In fact, one of Lauders concerts had to be abandoned halfway through, after the enemy began to fire at his trench.
Today, troop moral is considered as much a priority as it ever was. Modern celebrities often opt to fly out to war-struck areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosivo in order to enliven soldiers and give them a much-needed taste of home.
Mark Cann, chief executive of the British Forces Foundation charity, believes that celebrities represent a bridge between home and the frontline. Because popular culture represents normality, triviality and familiarity, it can help to draw soldiers out of the war mindset – if only temporarily – and relieve them from the physical and psychological pressures of life on the frontline.
The new research by Professor Edgar Jones, professor of the history of medicine at King’s College London, suggests that as troop moral drops, mental health problems rise.
“Morale is so important. It drives what you do and the way you do it. When morale falls off you lose determination, and that’s contagious,” he said.
Around 4% of soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (according to the charity Combat Stress).
The King’s College London study has found that that number increases to 7% for those still serving.
By offering troops a rare chance to celebrate and relax, entertainers can help to reduce the amount of stress soldiers get subjected to every single day. It gives troops something to look forward to when times are tough, and offers a brief respite in an incredibly challenging environment.
This year the British Forces Foundation has organised performances from big names such as Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood, rap star Professor Green and comedians Jimmy Carr and Joe Pasquale.
If you like, you can find out more about post traumatic stress disorder by following the link to our factsheet. If you think you could benefit from the help of a counsellor, you can use our counsellor search tool to find one suited to your needs.
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