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The US Army is using Blue Mind surf therapy to help mend broken soldiers returning from war zones with crippling PTSD and it’s having a significant impact.
A Soldier and the Sea
Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a long list of mental and behavioural issues are generally targeted by drug therapy which can be hit or miss and, in turn, trigger a range of side effects. But is there an enduring, profound and natural alternative surrounding us? Science suspects there is. The sea. And more specifically, its waves. The latest research is aimed at understanding why spending time in the surf is bringing profound relief to those with mental health issues and helping to sooth conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. The US Army is using surf therapy to help mend broken soldiers returning from warzones with crippling PTSD and it’s having a significant impact. Here in Australia, digger James Milliss is haunted by the demons of PTSD, while his son Johnny is autistic. James discovered by accident what science is trying to formally discern – that he and Johnny get amazing relief from their conditions by spending time in the surf. Sunday Night’s Denham Hitchcock takes us to the frontiers of brain research and to some of the world’s most stunning surf spots to reveal how it works. Along the way he becomes the first person ever to have brain activity measured in real time while riding a wave. The results are revealing. And at the forefront of this effort to understand the healing power of waves is the master of them himself. Eleven-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater is an ambassador for surfing therapy and he reveals why he also believes the power the ocean can be harnessed to conquer many ills. He also makes James Milliss’ dream come true, surfing with him on some spectacular breaks near Kelly’s home in Hawaii.
After returning from Afghanistan where he watched his friend killed, James Milliss suffered crippling side effects of his exposure to trauma. His marriage was suffering, his autistic son was too much for him to handle.
Incredibly, it wasn't medication of extensive therapy that put his family together. It was the ocean.
Surf therapy is being used to help mend broken soldiers returning from war zones with crippling PTSD as well as children suffering conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.
It is a phenomenon not fully understood by science but the latest research is aimed at understanding why spending time in the surf is bringing profound relief without the side effects of drugs.
Digger James Milliss is haunted by the night an IED ripped apart his platoon while on a covert mission.
"At 12 past 1 that morning Michael Fussell was killed by an IED blast.
"Just an enormous explosion, enormous explosion. I knew exactly what had happened, what occurred
"He had some highly sensitive gear with him. The ability to talk to aircraft and so on, so we just did our job, it was just, our job was to get all that equipment off Mick and account for it and, you know, place him into a body bag."
He returned to Australia in 2009, but life wasn’t the same.
"I was mountain biking in the bush by myself um just enjoying being out by myself, exercising, and I heard a song come on which started with like machine gun fire, and before I knew it I'd dumped the mountain bike and I'd crawled up behind a tree."
"Is the next corner you walk around going to have a guy with an AK-47 pointed at you?"
He and wife Emma had two children but their oldest Johnny was diagnosed with Autism at age two.
"It didn't help, I would just disappear to cope with it, you know.
"Here's the noise, here's the struggles, and I'd just leave Emma with it, I would just disappear surfing."
James didn’t realize it but his surfing had become an obsession, but it was one that also helped his son.
"From this little ball of energy to this focused ball of energy and it's a good. You see his smile. Whether he gets up, whether he rides it all the way in, whether he forgets to stand up it's just this massive grin"
Clinical neuro psychologsist Justin Feinstein is attempting to reverse the symptoms of crippling anxiety disorders based on this theory, using only a sensory deprivation — or floating — tank.
"You cannot even imagine the pain and the suffering that somebody who's been indelibly changed by a trauma has to endure. I would say that you know for them they can no longer have a moment of peace."
"And what we're finding is the emotional circuitry of the brain seems to be in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety."
In a sensory deprivation tank the room is vibration and soundproof and the pool is filled with warm salt water for floatation.
"What we're finding is it allows the brain to get a much needed respite from reality it disconnects from all of the things out here and really reconnects to what's happening inside your body and for people in a perpetual state of stress"
"And any activity that will bring you out of that mind chatter and bring you back to the present moment is going to profoundly affect you."
Eleven-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater is an ambassador for surfing therapy and he reveals why he also believes the power the ocean can be harnessed to conquer many ills.
"Surfing was kind of my solace, it was the thing that made me the happiest."
"To have someone tell you this is changing my life, that's pretty awesome."
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