Two forces pioneer surf therapy to combat mental health issues

Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police have developed a new scheme that uses surf therapy as a treatment method to combat PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), stress and mental health issues.

Sep 28, 2020
By Tony Thompson

The pilot scheme is the first programme of its kind in the world specifically tailored to the needs of the emergency services and builds on medically proven approaches also used within military programmes.

The Surfwell project has so far received significant funding of more than £120,000 from a number of charitable organisations, including Police Care and FLEET with offers of additional funding from other charities.

Both forces continue to develop the scheme, broadening the pilot that has included their own staff and members of the South West Ambulance Service. Benefits continue to be monitored with Exeter University and medical practitioners. Other emergency partners including South Western Ambulance Service, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire Fighter’s charity are actively involved.

Focusing on cold water therapy as a proven global treatment method for mental health issues, worldwide scientific research shows that significant stress reduction and improved levels of overall wellbeing can be achieved. Sessions take place on several beaches across Cornwall, Devon and Dorset and are led by colleagues with a passion for genuine peer support.

Dorset Police Chief Constable James Vaughan said: “Surf therapy is now a key part of our wellness programme for both police officers and staff across our Alliance and we have already seen clear benefits. We have huge ambitions for the scheme with the goal of offering the benefits to other emergency services.”

Devon and Cornwall Police Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer added: “In these challenging times initiatives that combine medical expertise, our natural environment and the compassion of professional colleagues to help others has led to an innovation which truly benefits many emergency services colleagues.

“There are clear business benefits in preventing serious mental ill-health for all employers and this is but one of our investments in wellness and which could not have been developed without the academic rigour provided by partners such as Exeter University and the generosity of donors.

“The concept is based on research completed in the military where the success has already been demonstrated. It is most important that public monies are spent wisely and this continues to be evaluated. Early indications are that there will be a significant return on investment through reductions in days lost as a result of sickness and provision of professional medical support where illnesses have become chronic which could have been prevented.”

Will Warrender, chief executive officer at South West Ambulance Service, said: “Our Trust has seen first-hand the positive impact of this unique offering through Surfwell to our people, giving them a safe place and an alternative option to formal based counselling and therapies.

“One size does not fit all when it comes to supporting those who are struggling with their mental, emotional, social and physical health, and this is a refreshing approach to wellbeing that has made a real difference to our people who have experienced it.

“Our Trust is incredibly excited to explore working in collaboration with Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police to enhance and embed surf therapy as part of our health and wellbeing provision for our people, and implementing this joint approach to welfare for emergency service staff is an important part of our plans.”

Following an initial trial period, early findings by the Independent Research Team from Exeter University indicate that the therapy shows an overwhelming level of improvement among most of the participants with examples of significant changes in mental health.

Surfwell is a global contributor for The International Surf Therapy Organisation (ISTO). Kris P Primacio, chief executive officer of ISTO, said: “Surfwell, while still in its infancy compared to programs running for ten or twenty years, is ground-breaking in their work with police officers and with intentions of further inclusion of all first responders. Their programme and study are vital to surf therapy research efforts and public health improvement on a global scale.”

For more information on Surfwell, you can visit the website here.

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