Mental Health and Scuba Diving Questions and Answers
Written by Laura Walton
Ask any keen scuba diver and they will probably tell you scuba diving keeps them sane! However, when it comes to diving with mental health conditions, research has barely begun. Here are some of the questions divers are starting to ask:
Q: How can scuba diving benefit mental health?
A: Honestly, this is not well understood yet.
Perhaps it is the escape and respite from daily life and the need to slow down. Most activities are about faster and better. Scuba diving is different. For a dive to go well, we are forced to be slow and efficient.
It could be the way we learn to regulate our breathing and emotional reactions underwater. Scuba divers need to be aware and alert to problems while at the same time calm and in control of behaviour. Did you ever notice that “STOP-THINK-BREATHE-ACT” can work everywhere?
Or maybe our obsession with getting underwater on every possible occasion drives the need to stay physically healthy and emotionally well. The experiences we have as scuba divers are meaningful and bring an enduring sense of purpose.
Q: Is it safe to dive with a mental health condition?
A: This depends on your condition and current functioning.
Everyone’s mental health varies! Stress and “burnout”, anxiety and low-mood, are common concerns. In some cases, leaving the work behind and getting some rest is enough to be okay.
But there are specific mental health conditions to consider: anxiety disorders and depression, trauma-related conditions, psychosis and bipolar diagnoses. These affect a person’s mood and ability to think clearly, and to problem-solve and make decisions. Poor mental health and high stress levels can make it hard to learn and remember information. Communication and social interaction may also be affected.
For these reasons, if you have a history of psychiatric or behavioural problems, or current concerns about your mental health, it is vital to seek medical opinion before scuba diving.
Q: What about scuba diving while taking psychiatric medicines?
A: The effects of some medications can alter under water.Stopping medication also has effects, so always seek medical advice before scuba diving or changing your medication.
Q: Should I tell my instructor?
A: You will complete a medical questionnaire and submit your doctor’s written statement. Beyond this, it’s a personal choice. Scuba diving instructors are not able to provide medical advice. However, being open about your concerns may help them to provide you with clearer expectations and suitable options for training.
Q: Do I need specialist support?
A: This will depend on your condition and medical history. For many people, this will not be necessary.
But, with complex or chronic conditions, there are additional risks that need to be managed. Therapeutic and adaptive scuba diving may be offered by a suitable organisation; one whose staff are trained in adaptive scuba techniques and in responding to mental health concerns.
Q: How do I know if I am psychologically fit-to-dive?
A: Being fit-to-dive means having the capacity to learn and apply the necessary skills to stay safe as a diver. You will need to be able to “self-regulate”. This means being able to deal with the emotional reactions that occur when we face challenges. Dealing with negative or anxious thoughts, and, most importantly, having control of your own actions.
Q: Should I use scuba diving to improve mental health?
A: Making life about getting rid of unwanted aspects can take attention away from the stuff we do want. So, using scuba diving may not work. But, focus on what you love about diving; and it can become your reason to breathe.
Dr Laura Walton is a Clinical Psychologist and PADI IDC Staff Instructor with a fascination for the psychology of diving. Visit scubapsyche to learn more about our behaviour as divers
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How to turn a DSD into a unique dive experience?
How many certified divers took their first scuba diving steps through a PADI Discover Scuba Diver? Anybody wonders why this first experience changed their lives?
Most divers I talked to explained their DSD was a great experience. Thanks to the dive centre and dive instructor, passing their passion for diving, a new diver was born. The correct environment, information sharing, atmosphere and good preparation turned the Discover Scuba Diver in a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of them.
Both my wife and I started in the same way years ago. Thanks to the great time we became so passionate about diving that we completely changed our lifestyle. From the discovery, we went through recreational diving to become so passionate about diving, to decide to swap our traditional jobs for a life in the diving industry. Even after we took this big step, we still remember our DSD years ago.
How to turn each Discover Scuba Diver (DSD) into an “I-love-scuba-diving” experience:
Organise each DSD as if it was a first date: Understand the DSD candidate does not know what to expect!
Be prepared: Follow a fixed DSD circuit and routine, but leave room for a personal touch.
Adapt to your customer: Accept people are unique, give them room to absorb scuba diving at their own pace.
Be passionate: share your passion for scuba diving with your guests before, during and after the dive.
Take your time: Remember the experience does not stop getting out of a wetsuit.
Help them remember: a picture says more than a thousand words, help them organise some pictures or a video as a permanent souvenir.
I fully agree there are a thousand more points to be added, but these six definitely help making a DSD something unique!