“I am a former serving soldier and having worked in some of the most hostile locations around the globe, I fully understand the severity of PTSD and the amount of people who are not getting the right treatment. I have lost many friends to PTSD. There are many organisations that are trying to help,  but Mark’s studies and outdoor activity projects are making a difference on another scale, “  Gary Stockton,  Komankra Ltd.

A programme, developed in Essex, is changing the lives of military veterans, 999 personnel, vulnerable young people and many more by helping them overcome the debilitating symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, Anxiety and many other challenging conditions.

Award winning chartered psychologist Dr Mark Wheeler recognised a growing need to help those who were being failed by traditional mental health provision. In response he developed a support package which has so far helped over many people struggling with their mental well-being, with amazing results.

As a trauma specialist working in the NHS, Mark realised the patients he was seeing from Colchester Garrison were just the tip of the iceberg – many more were in need of help, but a new approach was needed due to the perceived stigma around formal therapy. His original focus was to help military veterans struggling with PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is the name given to the psychological distress suffered by someone who has experienced fear, helplessness or horror because of a traumatic event, such as a serious accident, bereavement or military combat.

The majority of people exposed to traumatic events experience some short-term distress, which they overcome without professional help.

But those who develop PTSD symptoms can experience nightmares, intense anxiety and difficulty communicating with others. It can dramatically reduce their quality of life – impacting on both their ability to work and on their personal relationships.

Previous research has shown that military veterans with PTSD who most need support, are least likely to access it.

“Military personnel have a culture that is intolerant and dismissive towards those with mental health issues, so veterans are reluctant to seek professional help. If they enter treatment, they have a higher dropout rate and less successful outcomes. They are discouraged from talking about their traumatic experiences, so suffer in silence.”

An Alternative Approach

Mark drew on psychological theory and research from our Green Exercise Team, which has shown the enormous benefits to a person’s health and wellbeing of being outside, to develop the iCARP programme.

It comprises three main elements – green exercise (particularly fishing), encouragement for participants to share their experiences, rather than bottling up their feelings, and on-going peer support.

Participants are taken on fishing trips, during which they are encouraged to open up about their experiences and provide support to each other. The trips have been made possible thanks to donations and sponsorships.

“The results have been remarkable and very quick. Within a day we can see a difference in participants,” said Mark. “We have had people who have not been out of their house for three years, asking when the next trip is and others have come back to act as mentors because they have benefitted so much, they want others to as well.”

Long-term Benefits

Over 500 participants, and their families, have so far benefitted from the iCARP experience, with participants reporting reduced PTSD symptoms and an improvement both in their ability to work and in their personal lives.

“We carried out in-depth follow-up interviews with participants three years after the original intervention. One, who was unemployed because of the severity of his symptoms, has started an Open University degree, has got engaged and become a father again.  Another has returned to full-time employment and has got married, while a third has gone back to work full-time and has re-established contact with his daughter after a period apart.” 

The future looks bright

Building on the incredibly successful work with military veterans and the establishment of our well-being centre at “Lifted lakes” iCARP have been able to diversify and offer the support not only to military veterans but also to other important groups too.

Moving forward iCARP will continue their ground breaking research into the effects of their intervention in military veterans through a three year research programme working with the NHS and the University of Essex. We will also continue our programme with challenging and vulnerable young people, dementia sufferers, people with long term mental health conditions and refugees. We are very proud of what we have achieved so far but this is just the start!

iCARP.......... doing it right!