A MENTAL health service that supports military veterans and 999 personnel with PTSD through fishing is looking to further its research.

Based in Great Oakley, iCARP works with limbless and blind military veterans, 999 personnel and NHS staff suffering with PTSD and other mental health challenges.

The service was founded by Dr Mark Wheeler who comes from a background of working in the NHS providing mental health support for traumatised patients.

Dr Wheeler said: “In 2012 I embarked on a research PhD at the University of Essex in Psychology.

“My aim was to identify and create an alternative to formal therapy that would alleviate poor mental health and also act as a conduit into care for those that struggled with normal channels.

“A high percentage of my surgeries in Colchester were taken up by military veterans.

“I soon became aware of the large number of veterans struggling with mental health that found attending formal therapy too much of a barrier due to the stigma.”

Dr Wheeler’s research won the science and health impact award in 2018 and went on to be published after peer review.

Dr Wheeler and Dr Cooper, of Essex University, then formed the not-for-profit CIC iCARP in 2018.

Research by iCARP demonstrates that having people share group outdoor activities like fishing gives them a new sense of purpose and a safe space to explore their mental health.

This can lead to a reduction in their PTSD and other symptoms and improve their wellbeing.

The CIC provides qualified angling coaches, trained mental health staff, psychologists and volunteer mentors to create an environment that reduces the symptoms of poor mental health.

Dr Wheeler added: “We implement a programme where our clients are tutored in fishing skills and encouraged to socialise and eat with other members of the group in a two-day, one-night bankside experience.”

“Before and after assessments of their moods are evaluated and signposting to mental health services is given if appropriate.”

This year, iCARP has started working with Essex University on a four-year study into its work and how it may be suitable for social prescription across the NHS by GPs.

The CIC is planning to acquire a lease for three irrigation ponds on an Essex farm in the future.

It intends to utilise this base for research and to expand its patient group to other recipients.

Dr Wheeler said: “We would like to shift to around the year provision of a social prescribed green exercise intervention to improve mental well-being.

“We now have an office and therapy rooms on-site and have introduced disabled access to swims.”

iCARP created an amphibian and reptile reserve at one end of its site and has bee hives and beekeepers as well.

For more information and iCARP and the work it is doing visit icarp.org.uk/.