Published on – Sep 14, 2020

There are over 20 million veterans in the United States – more than any other country in the world. When these people return from duty, they face a lot of challenges: adjusting to civilian life, finding a job, reconnecting with family and friends. Many have physical injuries that they will never recover from. However, for many more, the biggest trauma is in the mind.

Post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety all take a heavy toll on former service people. Around 13.5% of vets suffer from PTSD alone. The government allocates billions of dollars to mental health services for veterans, but traditional treatments don’t always work. To fill the gap, some organizations have been taking a new approach: fishing.

A veteran fly fishing in a river as part of a fishing therapy retreat

You may not think it, but wetting a line has some major health benefits. Even so, can fishing really combat PTSD? What makes it work? And most importantly, are people aware of just how effective it is? To find out, we sat down with two experts in fishing-based therapy. Safe to say, we were impressed with what they told us.

Focus and Meditation

The first person we spoke to was Laura Armbruster, Director of Communications and Community Engagement at Heroes on the Water. HOW is a nationwide charity that helps veterans and first responders recover from PTSD through kayak fishing. During her time there, Armbruster has seen how fishing gives people a much-needed break from their daily stress.

A kayak fisher holding a fishing rod and a catch net in calm sea marshes“One of my favorite parts of my role is to interview our participants and our volunteers. They tell me flat out that being in a kayak – it’s a quiet space. There’s this whole interaction with nature. It’s quiet. You’re very close to the water.”

According to Armbruster, kayak fishing lets vets focus on the moment and find a sense of calm. This is something that anyone could benefit from, but it seems to be especially helpful for people with a military mindset.

“Because they’re mission-driven people, they need something to focus on. Working that kayak and catching a fish becomes their next small mission. It gives them something to unplug and focus on. And when they come back on shore, they have a release. It may not be long-term, but they have a release, a new focus, a new bit of confidence.

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