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Riding a wave to better mental health

Follow Nomad for long enough and you will come across me wax lyrical about the beach. I’ve said it before. There is something about the sand on your toes, the fresh wind in your hair that makes you forget about your cares for a moment.

Turns out that a lot of others feel the same way too.

Last year, I came across a surfing group in Sydney’s eastern and southern suburbs that is changing people’s lives.

They provide an eight week program that encourages people struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges to get active and start their journey to recovery.

Each week, there is a facilitated discussion about mental health that lasts about 30 minutes. It encourages people to share what they found works for them in developing their own path to wellness.

“Being at the beach and in the water allows people to engage in a group, in an environment that feels comfortable,” explains the coordinator of the program.

“It becomes a safe space to share their struggles if they wish. Sharing and contributing shows others that they are not alone and that it’s okay, not to be okay.”

One woman I talked to was battling her own illness when she found out about the surfing program. She was struggling in hospital.

“I was feeling helpless and without hope,” she tells me. “I didn’t believe anyone around me who told me I would get through this. I didn’t believe them when they said there would be better days ahead.”

Information about the program came up in her Facebook feed at a time she needed it most.

“I remember loving surfing as a child, but it was something I stopped as I got older,” she confesses.

She started coming along to the surfing group and within a year, not only had her health improved, she was volunteering for the program. It was hard work. There were difficult days but it was the fact that it was more than a surfing group that gave her the motivation to keep turning up every week.

The process of learning to surf again also helped her. At first she thought she’d never make it out to the break, but she did. Then she thought she would never be able to catch a wave, but she did.

“All these small wins helped me realise I was capable of doing much more… I could get out of bed, even if my depression told me I couldn’t. I could make it through the day, even though I felt I couldn’t.”

I ask her what she would say to those who are struggling with mental health issues if she could talk to them right now. There is a pause at the end of the phone, before she answers.

“Just hang in there. Just hang in there for the next five minutes, then for the next hour. Soon the day will be over and you’ll realise you survived it.”

Sections of this story have been published previously. It is based on a successful press release I wrote sometime ago.

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May 2018
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