Carp fishing is often regarded as a relaxing sport, but PhD Researcher Mark Wheeler has taken that thought much further, proving what affect our beloved sport can really have on the mind.

 

It was early 2014 when Dr Nick Cooper from the University of Essex and I began to discuss the possibility of researching into the potential psychological benefits of angling. Because we are both keen anglers, Dr Cooper a sea fisherman and me a carp angler, we had noticed how a trip fishing often helped to lift our own mood. We discussed whether this might be true for others and began researching the literature on this subject. We were surprised to see that there had been limited work done looking into this area and decided we would do our own research.

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My role in the local NHS mental health service at that time was one of a trauma specialist, working predominantly with military veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We decided that we would focus our research on this specific group of individuals because they are notoriously difficult to treat with conventional clinical interventions. We began recruiting volunteers for the study using the criteria that they needed to be military veterans with a formal diagnosis of PTSD. Once we had identified our group of participants we needed to then formalise the practicalities of the trip.

It was at the Brentwood Carp Show 2014, that I began to ask for help from the angling community and spent my time walking from stall to stall asking for donations of tackle, bait and so on. It was, in fact, my son, Bailey (10 at the time), who spoke to Les Webber MBE from Angling Projects and secured us a venue and the use of his tackle and we were on our way.

An important element of our design was that we wanted the veterans to be bivvied up on the bank so that they would be able to experience being close to nature. It was here that I got in touch with Alan Blair at Nash Tackle and it kindly lent us bedchairs and bivvies for the veterans’ trip. We received a bait donation from Mainline and secured the services of angling coach Nick Watkins to help tutor the non-anglers in the group.

The study was simple; take a set of psychometric scores two weeks before the fishing trip, two weeks after, then three months later, to see if any benefit experienced had held. The scales that were taken measured the levels of PTSD, depression, anxiety, stress and work and social adjustment.

We were able to take 12 military veterans away for two days and one night carp fishing and we were more than pleasantly surprised with the first set of results, with improvements found over all five measures. Dr Cooper and I agreed that a more in-depth study was required.

In early 2015 we were pleased to be able to link in with Cliff Davis and Louis Russo from Crafty Catcher, who agreed to work closely with us on a more in-depth two-legged study. They agreed to supply not only all the bait required but also to get all their sponsored anglers to attend the events and help coach the military veterans. Once again we were able to borrow the beds and bivvies from Nash, Angling Direct donated end tackle and this time we used a more local venue thanks to the kind donation by the Warren fishery for the use of its lake.

We ran two events on this occasion, one in August and the other in September, taking 22 veterans for two days and one night of fishing.

We were excited to find the results that we did. For each of the five areas looked at there was statistically significant improvement, meaning that each veteran reported feeling an improvement in their mental wellbeing.

There are several elements as to why this may be occurring. In interviews with the participants many mentioned the importance of being around military veterans who had shared experiences. We subsequently encouraged them to stay in touch and set up a Facebook group for them to do so. This helped facilitate them meeting up with each other and to go fishing together of their own volition.

Equally, the role of being “with nature” was mentioned as an important element. However, ultimately, it was the act of participating in the fishing that had facilitated this improvement in mood.

Moving forward, we have a series of events planned for 2016, including returns to the Warren and Angling Projects. We are thrilled to have the continued support of Crafty Catcher for these events and hope to have both new and returning veterans taking the opportunity to enjoy these projects.

We would be thrilled to hear from any tackle companies that would be interested in supporting our research either through the donation or loan of tackle. For further information please contact me via my website www.ptsdessex.co.uk

Mark Wheeler – PhD Researcher, High Intensity Psychological Therapist.