Digital, creative and cultural
Health and wellbeing
A chance meeting with a psychologist developing a rehabilitation programme for military veterans with PTSD led filmmaker Nic Blower down a road that would end with a new type of documentary - co-created with three British veterans - which has raised awareness and empowered veterans living with the condition.
A 2018 study estimated 6% of the UK’s million-plus veterans experience nightmares, intense anxiety and difficulty communicating induced by PTSD. In the US the picture is even starker, with between 11% and 20% of veterans from the Iraq War, and about 12% of veterans from the Gulf War living with PTSD.
The condition dramatically reduces quality of life, impacting ability to work and personal relationships.
“It’s a complicated and often misunderstood condition. It’s layered, and people just don’t know enough about it,” explained Nic Blower, a senior lecturer and filmmaker from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies.
Nic wanted to explore whether taking a new approach to filmmaking could educate people, and enrich the healing process, for those being interviewed and those watching.
Nic Blower is a filmmaker used to making films about difficult and upsetting subjects.
When he found out about a programme, developed in the Department of Psychology - which uses a combination of green exercise, experience sharing and on-going peer support to treat PTSD - he knew it offered the opportunity to make a different kind of film.
“Normally you go in there as the director and you lead it. You’re gathering testimony with an end in mind. LIFTED was driven in a different sort of way,” he said.
His film features Jay, Johno and Dan, veterans from the Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Afghanistan conflicts.
“They all have ongoing mental health issues that frequently mean they are in a fragile state. I had to make sure they trusted me. They were giving me their testimony and I had to do something positive with it,” Nic said.
“We talked about what the film would be, what would be in it and how the process would work. This was part of the trust-gaining exercise but it also meant we shaped the film together.”
"We talked about what the film would be, what would be in it and how the process would work. This was part of the trust-gaining exercise but it also meant we shaped the film together."
Nic spent several weeks with the men and their families, talking to them and fishing with them. Unusually for a documentary, the film represents only about 50% of the time Nic spent with his interviewees.
“In some ways this was a much more intense experience than previous films,” he said.
Rather than interviewing them alone Nic brought their partners into the process, and made the objectives and construction of the film part of the conversation.
The result is a unique piece of practice-as-research - a film co-created with its interviewees that sheds light on a debilitating condition.
Since 2019, the film has been shown to members of the military community, to veterans and their families, prisoners, medical professionals and students, and at film festivals. To date, almost 500 people have seen it.
Jay, Johno and Dan often accompany Nic, taking questions from audiences.
Audience feedback illustrates the film’s power to change perceptions with 96% saying that LIFTED had made them think differently about PTSD.
Nic’s approach, which empowered Jay, Johno and Dan to speak freely and openly, has positively affected their health and wellbeing: “I got to tell you stuff that I’ve not even told my wife,” one said.
Seeing public reactions to the film and speaking to audiences has been part of the healing process.
“It made me realise how far I have now come on my journey to recovery,” added another.
LIFTED allowed the men’s families to be heard too. One partner said: “It was good to be able to discuss how PTSD affects the family. Family members don’t always have a voice.”
"It made me realise how far I have now come on my journey to recovery."
For military veterans attending the screenings the experience has been profound. One audience member said: “My own experiences of bad dreams, lack of sleep, anger issues, social isolation, depression, flashbacks…were brought more clearly into focus,” with another commenting that it prompted him to engage more actively with his treatment.
The film has enhanced understanding of PTSD amongst British Army mental health practitioners too, with one writing: “All military mental health clinicians should see this to gain understanding of effects of PTSD post-military.”
NHS medical professionals have said it will help them at work and students have commented that it has increased their educational comprehension of PTSD.
LIFTED has been described by public audiences as “a delicate insight into the pain and trauma of this condition.”
It has been officially selected at five film festivals and has won an award at the 2020 Docs Without Borders festival, has been subtitled into Dutch for a forthcoming tour of the Netherlands and there are plans to tour the US.
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