When words fail, try art therapy
A British Army veteran suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is finding solace through art. Serving 22 years for the Scots Guards as a sniper, Robert Milton toured in the Gulf War, Iraq War and in Northern Ireland before migrating to Australia. It was while in Australia that Milton began to experience anxiety, depression and traumatic flashbacks. "I think I got to a point where if I didn't get medication, I was having really bad thoughts,” Milton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Following a diagnosis of chronic PTSD, Milton spent more time engaging in his passion for painting and drawing. He soon found art useful as a rehabilitation tool. "Whenever I'm doing art, then my anxiety levels are lower and I feel happier doing it. Even the smell of oil paint and turps; there's something about it that just makes you relax. I can't do without painting now."
Research has found that art therapy may offer, for some, an alternative treatment for PTSD because it allows them to process traumatic events in a way that doesn’t require words. With this in mind, Milton decided to try to help other veterans struggling with PTSD by teaching a weekly art class at his local Returned and Services League club. "Because I've suffered for so long doing all the wrong things, I don't want people to suffer in that manner," he said.
Meanwhile, in the UK, an exhibition showcasing the artwork of British soldiers is currently touring the country. Emma Willis came up with the concept for Art in the Aftermath after visiting a military hospital where injured personnel make complimentary clothing. While there, she told Gloucestershire Live, "I discovered that a lot of the injured servicemen were turning to the arts for their own therapy, such as painting and film.”
One of the artists whose work is on display at the exhibition is ex-serviceman Stewart Hill who immersed himself in art after suffering a brain injury while on tour in Afghanistan. "Painting gave me the ability to use the emotive part of my brain, which then improved the part that was damaged," he said. Another artist, Dougie Adams, also injured in Afghanistan, uses art as a means of distraction: "I painted the countryside around where I live instead of scenes from the war — I just wanted pure escapism from the thoughts I was having."
ABOVE Robert Milton uses art to help with the PTSD he suffers from serving in the military