The Healing Power of the Sea

Finding wellness in the heart of the sea.

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Can the therapeutic value of the sea be measured? Yes, says Blue Health, a European research initiative that examined the correlation between the level of mental health with the population’s access to rivers and oceans. Living near a body of water, they suggest, can increase well-being.

Blue Health collected data from 18,838 respondents across 18 countries that quantified the type and number of water-related activities people engaged in, giving weight to the concept that “blue spaces” are beneficial to mental and emotional health, much as green spaces are in urban areas. According to the UN, about 40 percent% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast.

Passion for the sea
One man who took this message to the heart of the sea is Joe Sabien, CEO of Sea Sanctuary.  According to the organization’s website, fueled by Sabien’s passions for the sea and mental health care, Sea Sanctuary facilitates therapy on sailing ships owned and operated by the company. 

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Individuals who sail for up to four days as part of their therapy, learn the rudimentary elements of sailing and work alongside the crew to sail and maintain the vessel. Sea Sanctuary was the first project of its kind in Europe and the first marine mental health service to gain official backing from the British National Health Services. One crew member on each vessel is a certified therapist.

“Simply staring out to sea can change our brain wave frequency, luring us into a mild meditative state. The color blue is associated with feelings of calm and peace and listening to the ebb and flow of waves and the swell of the sea naturally soothes and relaxes the brain. The fresh salty sea air is full of negative ions, believed to help alleviate depression and the increased levels of Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, which soaks into our skin, makes us feel good,” Sabien told Healthwatch Cornwall

Water based therapy
Healthwatch Cornwall reports on the secrets to water based therapy. For many people just being out at sea can have an immediately calming and meditative effect. When people are seabound, there is a sense of complete immersion in their surrounding environment.  

The peacefulness of staring out at the horizon of the open seas gives many, even those who are grappling with great personal challenges, a sense of gratitude, which can help to promote their mental and emotional stability. 

Creating a sanctuary at sea
Sabien’s dreams were shaped by his personal experiences of growing up in foster care. Due to parental abuse and neglect, Sabien was a ward of the court. Unable to concentrate in school, he began skipping classes, taking a train to the coastal town of Brighton, and staring deeply into the blue depths, where he found a sense of safety and peace. 

Sabien later joined the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and trained as a mental health therapist to give support to children like himself who were often overlooked. He has worked extensively within statutory mental health services and specifically within the field of trauma-related illnesses and disorders.

After witnessing what he believed was an over-medicalized approach to the treatment of mental health, Sabien developed his innovative mental health care model, a type of “Outward Bound” therapy based on the water, and the one that Sea Sanctuary uses today.

“There’s something about the sea – something visceral, precognitive, beyond language. It allows us to feel connected to something greater than ourselves,” Sabien told Positive News

By removing people from the stress and pressures of their daily realities and taking them out to sea, therapy based water initiatives are providing them with a sense of peace and well-being. Time spent on the waters has a therapeutic and restorative effect that can boost overall mental health and positivity.

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