MORE ex-servicemen who have been wounded or suffer from mental health issues are to get support from an effective project called iCARP.

Angling is known to improve physical and mental health and well-being, and Forces veterans are benefiting.

iCARP has connected ex-military service PTSD sufferers to help reduce depression, anxiety and stress after their years of service.

The Essex-based research project, run by Dr Mark Wheeler, takes groups of Forces veterans that are struggling with mental health issues away for fishing trips.

They not only get the kit to use, but also get support from qualified angling coaches and mental health professionals.

Over 100 men, women and their children have been through the experience, and now the project will push further ahead.

More Forces veterans are getting in tune with angling – and it’s helping with mental health issues.

Mark’s former six years of studies with patients found that angling shone out as an activity when dealing with the broken military bonds, mental health stigma, isolation and reluctance to discuss trauma.

The Angling Trust will now give iCARP the financial support to help more Forces veterans, more frequently.

The Trust’s head of participation, Clive Copeland, said: “Defra’s 25-year Plan for the Environment, the Sport England Strategy for Sport and the just-launched National Angling Strategy all reference the contribution that sport and the outdoors make in improving the mental health and well-being of individuals, and our sport of angling makes a huge contribution to this outcome.

“The Angling Trust hopes to ensure angling can make a real difference to the lives of trauma survivors, by helping fund research into this vitally important area and providing support to Dr Wheeler and his team to deliver the iCARP programme.

“Our contribution will be mostly used to up-skill iCARP’s growing workforce of willing volunteers, specifically by training angling sports coaches.

“This will enable iCARP to reach its goal of running weekly fishing trips that could mean over 250 participants experiencing the intervention annually,” added Clive.

Mark said: “iCARP are really proud to have the backing of such a prestigious organisation as the Angling Trust. The finance to help further studies, and to train our volunteers and make them fully qualified, licensed angling coaches is invaluable.”

One of the facilities used by iCARP is Les Webber MBE’s Angling Projects, in Wraysbury, Berkshire.

The centre originally helped mainly schoolchildren get into angling, but now also helps Forces’ veterans.

Les said: “We were the first venue that Mark ever used, and they have been coming here once or twice a year for about six years now, staying two or three nights in our accommodation. It is clear that they really benefit from and enjoy the fishing and the trip.

“Our patron, Chris Tarrant, has been down in the past to have a chat with them, and they are due again in mid-October. They also have an annual
week-long trip to a lake in France,” Les added.

Mark Wheeler explains Peer Outdoor Exposure Therapy

Q Where does fishing fit into what you call Peer Outdoor Exposure Therapy (POET)?
A We take participants to fishing lakes in peer groups. They are joined by psychologists, mental health professionals, first aiders, angling coaches and peer mentors.

During their stay (usually three days and two nights) they’ll have their own individual ‘bivvies’ (fishing tents) and camp beds set up around the lake and will fish under the supervision of their angling coaches.

They are encouraged to socialise with other participants, peers and support staff. Meals are eaten communally, and social support is established through a closed Facebook page.

Q Does it work?
A The research into POET has been extensive and has taken six years to complete.

I’ve run pilot studies into various outdoor “green exercise” options including horse riding, falconry and archery and all of them were found to beneficial and reduced the symptoms of PTSD and other mental health disorders.

However, the most noteworthy improvement was found when we used angling as the green exercise element of POET, with significant improvement being recorded in PTSD, depression, anxiety, stress and work and social adjustment when I compared before and after scores.

This improvement was still seen when I looked again after three months. I went on to run a randomly controlled trial (RCT) and this further demonstrated the efficacy of POET.

Q What do participants say?

A Since beginning the research over 100 participants (men, women and their children) have been through the experience.

We have testimonies directly from participants expressing that their attendance at the study “it saved them from taking their own life“. We have had family members state “without you he would have taken his life“.

Many of the veterans that have experienced POET have gone on to volunteer at further events too.

Q What are your plans for the future?

A Well, so far participants have been predominantly adult, but this is mainly because up to now we’ve only run one family day.

We want more children, young people and families to get the benefits too though so we’ll be running more family trips though, and already have dates pencilled in for this year so that more families can experience the benefits of fishing together.

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