When I first started to scuba dive, the feeling of hovering weightless and the sense of freedom this gave me was a joy I found hard to describe. Add to this being surrounded by sparkling, aqua-coloured water and the sight of the beautiful corals and tropical fish and I couldn’t quite believe the amazing experience I was having.
Now multiply by a hundred and we might just start to get somewhere towards understanding how disabled people feel when they become involved in scuba diving. It is well-documented that the sport has many advantages for helping with the rehabilitation of people with disabilities. Clearly scuba diving is a physical activity so it rehabilitates physically by strengthening core muscles, increasing endurance and improving balance.
Extensive Mental Health Benefits
But what has proven to be equally if not far more important, are the mental health benefits that learning to scuba dive can bring to people with disability challenges. As I already mentioned, one of the big wow factors for me was the suspension and weightlessness in water bringing about such a feeling of freedom that I was overwhelmed with happiness.
Disabled divers almost always highlight that being in this near-weightless state brings about a profound sense of well-being, calmness and safety. During the dive, physical restrictions are often forgotten and in some cases, there is even relief from pain and discomfort. Scuba diving can have such a positive effect on the mental state because the physical and mental experience underwater is the same for both able-bodied and disabled people.
Mark Heniser — a physical therapist at Brooke Army Medical Center, which runs a scuba diving rehabilitation facility for wounded veterans – is very clear about the benefits of scuba diving. “At least 75 percent of our guys have never been diving before,” Heniser says. “It opens new horizons, introducing things they hadn’t done before they got hurt. That’s true of other adaptive sports, but diving also gives them a sense of freedom, weightlessness and no boundaries.”
These words come up again and again when talking to disabled scuba divers – that from a land-based place of restricted mobility, reliance on others and curtailment they can move to the underwater world and for the duration of the dive, all these restrictions just fade away.
Here at Scubafish, we recently took a lady and her husband out to the reef to do introduction dives. Due to a motor accident several years earlier, the lady is now confined to a wheelchair but it was her great wish in life to go diving. Which thankfully we were able to facilitate. And she said the same – the sense of lightness and freedom underwater compared to being on land was the most wondrous feeling. In my book, it makes perfect sense that the sport should be explored and exploited as a tool for rehabilitation far more than it is currently.