The course is part of a larger clinical feasibility trial led by Dr Mark Harper from Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust and Dr Amy Burlingham, ST5 in General Adult and Older Adult Psychiatry, from Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust to gather evidence around cold-water swimming as a treatment for Anxiety and Depression.
Participants taking part in the hour-long 8-week course, do a few gentle warm-up exercises and learn helpful breathing techniques before they slowly enter the water. Once in the water participants are taught how to implement breathing techniques, apply swim techniques such as breast stroke and freestyle, sighting, body surfing, duck diving, the study of rip currents and how to recognise and exit them.
Dr Amy Burlingham said: "Two years ago, my husband encouraged me to join him outdoor water swimming and I reluctantly agreed….and since that first swim I have not looked back! Unfortunately, I don’t live next to the coast, but we regularly swim at a beautiful lake in Worcestershire. I found it provided me escapism from the stresses of work and would leave me feeling energised and ready for the day ahead. I started to read around the topic and came across lots of anecdotal reports on the benefits to mental health. Working in mental health services myself, I was intrigued to investigate this further, which is when I got in touch with Dr Mark Harper and Mike Morris. After some great collaboration, hard work and overcoming the challenges of COVID-19, within a year we had managed to get the trial set up. I then had the opportunity to join one of the groups in August and it was amazing to see and hear first-hand the experiences of the participants. I am delighted it has become part of the Recovery College in Devon."
Caroline Nicholson, Manager of the DRLC, said: "The DRLC was delighted to receive funding in the amount of £672 from DPT's Special Charity to purchase 8 dryrobes to enable the service to continue to deliver cold water swimming safely in partnership with ChillUK in order that students get dry and warm after coming out of the water. Without these dryrobes, the course could not have been offered. Thank you to the Charity to help us deliver outdoor activities safely during Winter months throughout lockdown and beyond!"
The DRLC had 8 students enrolled on the course who are part of a larger cohort of individuals taking part in the trial, which include Marie Ash, Senior Peer Support Worker in Barnstaple, and Caroline Nicholson, Manager of the DRLC. Co-tutoring the course is Liz Byrt, Senior Mental Health Practitioner in the Perinatal Services based in Barnstaple, as well as another wild swimmer and experienced colleague from the Perinatal Services, Jacqui Fairhurst. Michael Morris, who runs ChillUK hopes to expand his offerings across Devon.
Video links to the work ChillUK do can be found here:
Caroline Nicholson, Manager of the DRLC, says that the experience has been life-changing for her: "I have not exposed so much paper-white, war-torn flesh in more than 20 years! I used to be such a confident swimmer, but I lost confidence on account of my mental health. Being part of such an encouraging group of like-minded people has made all the difference. Donning a bathing suit and walking the cat walk down to the water's edge is no longer something I fear, because instead I am full of joy and exhilaration being in the sea, being buoyed by the salt and coming out feeling so alive. I certainly feel healthier in both mind and body. Wild swimming is something I will definitely continue to do for my wellbeing and I am glad to have had the expert instruction from ChillUK to carry on, confident that I have the knowledge to do so safely."
Marie Ash, Senior Peer Support Worker in North Devon, describes her experience in taking part in this course: "As a Senior Peer Support Worker being part of the project has been about personal learning and growth. When I was a young teenager my foot got caught in some rocks and the waves were crashing over me I thought I was going to drown, and so waves and going out of my depth have been a real challenge and one with the help of all in the Chill Swim I’m doing it. I can bring this into my work and I would love to see Peer Support being able to support a DRLC course in wild swimming and its benefits, more people are finding the benefits of getting into the water be it the sea or rivers, natural pools. It does have a positive impact on mood I know because I’ve seen and felt it and whenever I think of the sea or swimming I get that feeling of freedom and being at one with our natural environment."
Keep an eye out for more cold-water swimming, outdoor activities and other courses to benefit mental health and wellbeing from the DRLC by visiting their website at www.devonrlc.co.uk or by keeping up to date with upcoming recovery learning opportunities by following them on their Facebook page as a way to benefit your mental health and wellbeing. Contact Caroline Nicholson for more information on firstname.lastname@example.org.