by Dr Richard Cullen

Posted on December 05, 2018 at 17:32 hrs


Just before our October Expedition to Roots Red Sea, Tom Swarbridge was asked to speak at a charity event on behalf of the Endeavour Fund at AIG (American Investment Group). AIG is the lead sponsor for the Endeavour Fund.

While there one of our programme members messaged to tell us he was unable to make the October trip. The Board quickly agreed to invite one of AIG's staff to come on the expedition and to report back to AIG and the Endeavour Fund on how Deptherapy works and what we achieve.

HARRY VASILARAS is a UK Financial Institutions Underwriter with AIG and a leading fundraiser for their various charities.

The 'troops' loved Harry and he rapidly became part of the team. He joined the Open Water Course and at the end of the week qualified as an Open Water Diver



Harry recounts his time with Deptherapy

Five men who served their country on the front line died suddenly over six days this Autumn. In parallel, the UK Ministry of Defence announced its intention to study the ‘causes of death, including rates of suicide’ among veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The destruction of war is widely known and reported, but often, the aftermath of individual suffering is ignored. Richard Cullen and Deptherapy seek to address this issue in the most unique way, and I was fortunate to be able to join them on a week-long diving expedition to the Red Sea in Egypt this October.

The darkest of times

From the first meeting, I knew this was going to be an eye-opening experience. Deptherapy's family atmosphere allowed for the beneficiaries to talk about, in their own words, ‘the demons they've never shared with others before.’ Beneficiaries spoke of the bleakest of times - suicide attempts on Christmas Day, being blown up on tour, being shot and losing 5 pints of blood, homelessness, and addiction.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - a condition many beneficiaries suffer from - left some debilitated. Many suffered night terrors, flashbacks, and even survivor guilt. I also found out that the beneficiary who had been most open and welcoming to me when I nervously met the group at Gatwick Airport, had thought about taking his life only a few months ago. Never had the recognition of silent suffering been more palpable than at that moment for me.

Diving - misnomers and head-space

Once we began diving, everything changed. The relief it brought to the beneficiaries was clear to see. Their spirits were lifted, and it was contagious. How this happened is not completely clear to me. The beneficiaries suffering from mental health issues proclaimed that the only ‘clear head-space’ they have found is in the depths of the water when diving.

As someone who has never suffered from mental health issues, I do however appreciate - as anyone who has ever dived will tell you - that there is so much tranquillity underwater. I had heard this before I went on this trip, and, frankly, saw it as a paradox: how can breathing a limited supply of air, 25m underwater, be a soothing exercise? However, the Deptherapy experience showed me how wrong I was!

Diving as a form of therapy is not the only misnomer Deptherapy challenges. Many beneficiaries have physical injuries. Single, double and triple amputees are welcomed on the programme. Whilst much of the diving community shies away from the idea that such individuals are capable of being PADI (the international diving certification) qualified, Deptherapy tailors the qualification to these individuals.

As days passed, hope grew

Deptherapy definitely changes lives. The despair that had surrounded the camp at the beginning of the trip was swiftly replaced with optimism. Many beneficiaries began sleeping better, and started talking about their desire to continue diving and how they plan to change their lives going forward. The trip did not 'cure' them. There is no ‘cure’ for what some of these veterans have been through. But the experience certainly helped guide their thoughts.

Perhaps the best example of this is two individuals, both double amputees, who were previously beneficiaries of the charity. They are now trustees/ambassadors of Deptherapy, and in the eyes of many beneficiaries, the older brothers of the group. They still fight their inner demons, but have become role models for the beneficiaries who also aspire to transform their lives.

On the trip, I had the privilege of witnessing the first triple amputee, Josh Boggi, qualify as a Rescue Diver. To many that seems impossible or counter-intuitive, but that is the point. Nothing seems impossible when you are diving alongside a Divemaster who has no legs, and witnessing a triple amputee exercise a rescue ascent from the bottom of a reef !

My sincere thanks to the team at Deptherapy for inviting me, Geoff Godwin, Romaney O’Malley, and Sarah Davies for giving me the opportunity, and to everyone on the trip for being so welcoming!

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