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Veterans are Using Scuba Diving to Heal From PTSD

Veterans are Using Scuba Diving to Heal From PTSD

8,030 Veterans see no escape from the torment of PTSD and decide to end their own lives every single year.

Combat and service subject Veterans to constant and unrelenting exposure to traumatic events, such as pulling people from accident scenes, trying to save people from life threatening injuries, or witnessing the wounds from abusive relationships. Warriors come home and then try to compartmentalize these tragic events, loss of limbs, death and the sight of the horror and focus on the good and positive things, but the constant barrage of memories slowly erodes their emotional defense, and they develop PTSD.

So, what is PTSD? It’s a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. The condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions.

Symptoms may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood.

This is why our goal at Undersea Warriors is healing Veterans suffering from service-related PTSD via adaptive (amputated/paralyzed limb or spinal cord injury), recreational and marine conservation diving.

The Science: PTSD & Scuba Diving

Using scuba diving as PTSD treatment isn’t exactly a new concept. It’s backed by a research study completed by Johns Hopkins University and the Cody Unser First Step Foundation.

In 2011, Dr. Adam Kaplin and Cody Unser completed a scuba research study on ten paralyzed Veterans suffering from PTSD by having them complete their Open Water Diver scuba course certification. Over the four-day course, the Veterans completed several dives and noticed an 80% reduction in their PTSD symptoms. Additionally, they reported an average 15 percent reduction in muscle spasticity, an average 10 percent increase in sensitivity to light touch and five percent increase to pinprick. In some individuals the improvement in tone, sensation or motor function was between 20 and 30 percent. All of these results lasted from weeks to months. They also found a decrease of 15 percent in obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms in the disabled divers, a similar decrease in signs of depression, and an overall decrease in mental problems using a validated psychological assessment.

Beyond the typical symptoms of PTSD, scuba diving has been proven as a form of therapy for many reasons and for many divers. The weightlessness resulting from immersion in water allows participants a respite from chronic pain. Scuba diving is also a confidence booster. It can be hard for those who are physically active to suddenly be missing a limb or two. Then, they discover they can dive just as well as anyone else. Lastly, the dive community instills core values of inclusiveness, including the ‘buddy system’ to help Veterans overcome feelings of social detachment.

Undersea Warriors stands apart from the other nonprofits in our commitment to perform additional research studies on how scuba reduces PTSD symptoms while scuba diving. This medical discovery can aid treatment programs for victims of sexual assault, bullying/cyber-bullying, physical and emotional abuse.

We are working with some of the best in their fields to conduct a medical research study on the impact scuba diving has on PTSD symptoms.

Our Program

Undersea Warriors uses a 3-step program to introduce and guide Veterans through recreational/adaptive and marine conservation diving in a gradual and controlled manner to give them the opportunity to experience the sense of peace that comes from Scuba activities along with a sense of purpose - marine conservation. 

Our mission is to not only provide the veterans the training to participate in an activity with proven health benefits but to give them a sense of purpose as well by participating in marine conservation efforts. This program provides the Veteran an opportunity to socialize with fellow veterans and scuba divers while impacting the environment. The conservation divers remove plastic and other waste from rivers, lakes and the ocean. Additionally, they will have opportunities to dive in aquariums and interact with fish, dolphins and turtles while cleaning the tanks.

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