nib foundation backs mental health initiative

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A new mental health charitable initiative backed by the nib foundation has been launched in Lake Macquarie.

The WOW Surfing Experience (WOWSE) is designed to teach people experiencing mental health issues how to surf. The new 8-week learn-to-surf program has been launched by the mental health surf therapy charity Waves of Wellness Foundation.

In the past year, the foundation has launched programs in Newcastle, Bondi, Cronulla, Ocean Grove, and Wet 'n' Wild.

Founder and CEO of WOW, Joel Pilgrim, said the WOWSE aims to normalise the challenges faced by people living with mental health issues.

"The primary focus of this program is to target social connection, which can be significantly impacted when going through difficult times. We're helping people open up in a neutral, non-intrusive natural environment. This aims to improve social engagement and quality of life for participants," said Mr Pilgrim.

"Preliminary research reveals that this program impacts participants in many important ways, including improved confidence, strengthened social supports, improved daily structure, increased enjoyment of life, decreased worry and anxiety, and a sense of accomplishment."

One former program participant, Brad, said the Surfing Experience played a role in his recovery. "It gets people up and motivated, it's a real kick start, it's got me fitter, and happier, and has set me a routine. Yeah it's been really beneficial for my mental health."

According to the Black Dog Institute, one-in-five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health issue in any year, but 65 percent of these people do not access any treatment.

nib foundation executive officer, Amy Tribe, said the program gives young people the opportunity to learn how to use surfing as a coping strategy and encourages them to explore alternative healthy outlets and positive ways to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing.

"Using surfing and the ocean as an outlet to facilitate positive therapeutic outcomes, program participants are encouraged to discuss mental health issues in a social and relaxed setting with the overall aim of reducing symptoms and improving mental health," said Ms Tribe.

Since it was established in 2009, the nib foundation has made total grants of almost $16 million, providing $1-$2 million annually for partnerships focused on community health initiatives in the Hunter and across Australia.