Police pioneer surf therapy to combat mental health issues

Laura White
Laura White

Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police have developed a new scheme which uses surf therapy as a treatment method to combat PTSD, stress and mental health issues.

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 that are also utilised within military programmes.

The Surfwell project has so far received significant funding of over £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 which 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 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 Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer said: “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 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 success has already been demonstrated.”

Will Warrender, CEO 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.”

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, CEO 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 program and study are vital to surf therapy research efforts and public health improvement on a global scale.”

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