A New Brunswick sailing school for people with special needs has launched a new therapeutic program to teach people living with post traumatic stress disorder how to sail.
The school, which is located in Shediac, is called Able Sail.
“I have tried to reach out and connect with people that I know struggling with PTSD,” said Mark Bridges, Able Sail’s volunteer director.
The school typically offers ‘learn to sail’ programs for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, but Bridges said they are opening up the program to people suffering from mental illness as well.
Bridges is a retired RCMP officer and has witnessed first hand the impacts of PTSD on first responders.
Being an avid sailor, he said he often took to the water as a form of work related stress relief and wanted to help others do the same. He said that sailing is so task oriented it can help stop the mind from racing.
“In my working life I often took advantage of time on the water either alone or with friends and family to de-stress and to focus and find time to breathe,” said Bridges.
Moncton’s Karlene Milson was one of his first students. She took her first lesson in early July.
After witnessing the death of a loved one in a horrific accident, Karlene has spent the last 6 years learning how to manage symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
“Basically my brain receives and sends wrong messages and so that is overwhelming at times, ” Milson said.
“The big thing is having an extra tool in my tool kit to let me stay present and in the moment,” she added.
Through the program she has discovered that sailing quiets the unhealthy patterns that trigger her anxiety.
“Being able to occupy my brain with a task while in a nice calming environment sort of adds two things to one and makes it a very pleasant experience,” said Milson. “It’s liberating”
Bridges said people living with any mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, can take to the water for free, and there is no need to reveal the details of the illness.
“If your injury is not visible we are not going to ask,” said Bridges.