In this month’s blog, we talk about what we can learn from post war rehabilitation, and how this relates to mental health.

The other day, I stumbled across a wonderful story about a newly discovered World War 1 embroidery patchwork quilt, which was found by a couple who were clearing out a family member’s house following their death.  This quilt had 60 different squares, all embroidered with soldiers’ names from all over the country.  Post war rehabilitation included embroidery, painting, and basket weaving, as they were seen as a way of helping men to improve their manual dexterity by using their arms and hands creatively, post war.  Furthermore, this would have been done as a group activity, so that men might chat about their experiences, alleviate boredom, and in so doing help them to deal with the trauma of war and improving injuries.

This level of creativity and physical workout whilst having side by side conversations with others is a fantastic example of helping men with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and trauma using a mindful approach, and is particularly relevant for men.  We may think, perhaps, that the current focus on improving the nation’s mental health is a new thing.  Indeed, there was a significant level of understanding post World War 1 that ensured mental health and well-being was at the heart of and part of a hospital’s rehabilitation plan.

What about these side by side conversations then?  There is evidence that suggests men particularly prefer side by side conversations when talking about emotions or connecting with others on an emotional level.  It increases men’s comfort level of talking in a non-confrontational way.  Women, however, prefer face to face conversation which ensures that they can connect emotionally, maintain engagement and eye contact for listening.

What can we learn from our post war approach to rehabilitation and dealing with PTSD?  That men and women often need a different approach when talking about their emotions.  Do we wonder why sometimes our young men and boys don’t want to visit a school counsellor, when the chairs are face to face, or sometimes with a table in between? Add flowers and a box of tissues and you really do put them off! When you think about your pastoral support, do your students have an opportunity for a walk and talk? Can they be doing something other than talking face to face?   My experience of working in schools is that we have great opportunities for our girls and young women to talk.  In fact, when training groups of students, their feedback about how they manage their life when things are going wrong is that most girls and young women will seek out their peers to talk through problems.   Furthermore, our pastoral teams have a higher proportion of female staff who will usually provide support based on their own experiences/needs.

We can also learn from our soldiers that the opportunities for our children and young people to undertake creative, mindful activity can be a fantastic way of dealing with anxiety, if provided regularly.  Currently, these activities which were once an established part of the curriculum have become more and more squeezed out.  The skill of creativity through arts, drama and design allows for not only connecting with the here and now, but provides opportunities for problem solving, inventiveness and originality.  It was Albert Einstein who said “Imagination [creativity] is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world and all there ever will be to know and understand’.  Our students may not want to do basket weaving or embroidery, but they may want to engage in other creative, mindful activities like cooking, art, or creating a funny meme or YouTube clip.