Scuba divers know that there is something therapeutic about diving, and there is some research that suggests that it may also be effective in reducing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can occur after experiencing or even witnessing a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, combat, sexual assault, or car accident. Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of triggers, negative changes in mood or thought, and changes in physical and emotional reactions to situations, or other triggers. In severe cases, PTSD significantly impairs daily functioning and overall quality of life.
One study (Blumhorst, E., Kono, S., & Cave, J.) found that scuba diving increased mindfulness and contentment in veterans. The researchers found that the positive effects of adaptive scuba diving on mindfulness were especially pronounced in veterans with physical disabilities. They concluded that their findings supported the use of diving-based therapy to improve the psychological well-being of veterans.
Another study published in the Journal of Veterans Studies ( Krpalek, D., Achondo, N., Daher, N., & Javaherian, H. ) found that scuba diving can have a range of therapeutic effects for veterans, including improved job performance and decreased symptoms of PTSD, depression, and stress. Some of the therapeutic aspects of scuba diving may include the use of deep breathing techniques, social bonding, and the sense of relaxation that comes from being immersed in water. Researchers suggest that incorporating occupational therapy with scuba diving may enhance these benefits.
In a study published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation, (Morgan, A., Sinclair, H., Tan, A., Thomas, E., & Castle, R.) researchers found that diving offered significant benefits to veterans with amputations who also had psychological problems such as anxiety. The veterans improved their social function and had less depression.
So, how does scuba diving help to reduce the symptoms of PTSD? That question is unanswered. Maybe it is because the underwater world creates a sense of relaxation and mindfulness. It is also possible that concentration on the moment helps (try thinking about your problems while you’re diving, it’s hard to do) which can be therapeutic for individuals with PTSD. It could be the social support and community. that scuba provides is the key. It could be as simple as having a dive buddy, or a group of people that help to reduce feelings of isolation and improve overall well-being.
Of course, scuba shouldn’t be the sole treatment for PTSD. It is important for individuals with PTSD to receive evidence-based treatment, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or other treatment with a mental health professional. Scuba diving may be a useful treatment option to consider, along with that treatment.
More research is clearly necessary to determine all the potential benefits of scuba diving for individuals with PTSD, but the available evidence suggests that it may be a promising treatment option. Scuba diving can be physically demanding and carries certain risks, so everyone should work with a trained and experienced instructor to learn how to mitigate those risks.
If you’re a veteran and have GI Bill benefits, you can use them to get certified. Check here for more information.
- Blumhorst, E., Kono, S., & Cave, J. (2020). An Exploratory Study of Adaptive Scuba Diving’s Effects on Psychological Well-Being among Military Veterans. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 54(2), 173-188.
- Krpalek, D., Achondo, N., Daher, N., & Javaherian, H. (2020). Reducing Veterans’ Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Posttraumatic Stress, and Enhancing Engagement in Occupations with SCUBA Diving and Occupational Therapy. Journal of Veterans Studies, 6(1), 98–106.
- Morgan, A., Sinclair, H., Tan, A., Thomas, E., & Castle, R. (2019). Can scuba diving offer therapeutic benefit to military veterans experiencing physical and psychological injuries as a result of combat? A service evaluation of Deptherapy UK. Disability and Rehabilitation, 41(23), 2832-2840.