Heroes on the Water’s community of law enforcement, first responders and veterans have many reasons to participate in therapeutic kayak fishing, including a variety of post-traumatic stress symptoms.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines post-traumatic stress disorder as something that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It impacts people very differently, based on a multitude of risk factors. The brave men and women in the military, law enforcement and first responder communities are at risk, and unfortunately often ostracized for asking for help. 

According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 6 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives. It is difficult to get an exact count as there is no single study that asks everyone about PTS. 

At Heroes on the Water, we continue to study the positive impacts of our kayak fishing programs and are learning that there are some significant differences in the type of post-traumatic stress our participants experience. A major difference is the onset of combat PTS versus Cumulative PTS, which is more likely experienced by law enforcement and first responders. 

Combat Post-Traumatic Stress 

When in the military, you may see combat, be exposed to frightening and life-threatening experiences, be part of a serious training accident, or even experience military sexual trauma. While there are many ways a person in the military can experience PTS, combat related PTS is more widely known. Having an incident that occurs suddenly, such as having a convoy explode from an IED or front-line combat, is how many perceive our military are exposed to negative experiences that create post-traumatic stress. 

However, studies show that military veterans can experience PTS from many other experiences, and can occur in both peacetime, training or war. The studies show a slightly higher number of veterans experience PTS over the general population. Yet those studies do need some additional research and implementation to better gather numbers from various eras, particularly the Vietnam War. 

The positive news is that studies show, including our own study, that kayak fishing and outdoor therapy have a positive impact on PTS symptoms regardless of how long the individual has experienced the symptoms. HOW opens our programs to veterans of all eras in order to provide the healing power of the outdoors to all who can benefit. There are many success stories that showcase the positive benefits our participants receive from kayak fishing and camaraderie that is immersed in our program.  

Cumulative Post-Traumatic Stress 

PTS manifests in many ways and can take time to appear.  Unlike a combat experience, our law enforcement and first responders often suffer from Cumulative Post Traumatic Stress. This occurs from repeated exposure to trauma and can often go undiagnosed. For our law enforcement and first responder community, the continual and repetitive nature of dealing with trauma creates the perfect storm for cumulative PTS. It slowly builds up over time and makes diagnosis difficult.  

Another reality of PTS in our law enforcement officers and first responders is that it is still frowned upon to receive that diagnosis. It creates a scenario where those who might want to seek help will not, and those who do can be ostracized and even have their employment terminated. 

The training that our first responders receive teaches them to overcome their flight response and run toward danger. While this is similar to the training our military receives, the law enforcement and first responder community are expected to handle the traumatic events and difficult outcomes for years. There is not an end to their deployments, as is the case in the military, and there is not the same awareness of the issues for them to receive appropriate care. 

Fortunately, there are some shifts in attitudes and the associated care of our first responder community. Peer Support Wellness teams are being established in many departments, and conversations are becoming more commonplace. The ability for this community to relax and decompress from the daily rigors of their careers is critical to the mental wellbeing of law enforcement and first responders. Heroes on the Water kayak fishing programs provide a simple, easy way to allow our participants to alleviate anxiety, improve relationships and be a part of a supportive community that provides a nonjudgmental space to heal. 

Kayak Fishing Provides a Simple Healing Mechanism 

When reviewing our recent study results, or reading our many success stories, it becomes clear that kayak fishing provides a positive methodology to reduce stress, improve mindset and change lives for the better for our military veterans, law enforcement, first responders and their families. The combination of being immersed in the quiet of nature while focusing on paddling and fishing provides a positive adjustment to a person’s mindset. Follow that with the camaraderie of a group of like-minded people, who as they say “can tell their story without telling their story,” and you have a recipe for improving the wellness journey of those who protect our borders and keep our streets safe. 

You can experience the power of kayak fishing yourself by participating in our upcoming Jim Dolan Memorial Tournament. If you don’t fish, that’s OK. You can support our community of heroes by purchasing a shirt or raffle items. Check out our 2023 Tournament information today! 

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