15/11/2013 06:45 GMT | Updated 15/11/2013 06:48 GMT

Surf Lessons Are Being 'Prescribed' To Help Low Self-Esteem And Depression

It sounds like a flippant concept - offering young people surfing lessons to help combat their depression and low self-esteem - but it's encouraging news that the NHS is backing methods and programmes that aren't just about talking therapies and medication.

It's a £10,000 pilot not-for-profit scheme funded by the Dorset Healthcare University Foundation Trust and run by the Wave Project, and is open to people between the ages of 8 to 21. To qualify, you need to be referred by school, social services, mental health services or bereavement charities.

The Telegraph, which reported on the scheme that takes place in Dorset, said it is likely to face criticism due to the NHS being in "financial crisis" but mentioned the story of Brandon, an ADHD sufferer who had taken part in it.

child surfing

His feedback was that it had given him more confidence. "Now I am more happy to make friends and I am not shy to let myself out there in the middle of the group instead of just standing back there in the shadows," he said.

Every volunteer has a mentor, and the fact that it doesn't feel like 'therapy' is what makes it successful, the BBC reported.

Joe Taylor, who runs the scheme, says: "What is great is it doesn't feel like therapy for the young people but there are therapeutic principles behind it such as reducing anxiety, promoting confidence and well-being.

"It's the sense they have gone into a challenge that they did not necessarily believe they could do, discovered they could do it and that people were supporting them, making them feel more able to do all sorts of different things in their lives."

FAST FACTS ABOUT CHILDREN AND MENTAL ILLNESS

  • 1 in 10 children have a mental illness
  • 80,000 children and young people have severe depression
  • 6% of children have a conduct disorder
  • 2% have a hyperkinetic disorder such as ADHD
  • Emotional disorders are biggest cause of absence in school among mentally ill children

Source: NHS.UK

One of the biggest challenges the scheme faces is whether people take it seriously. But a lot of work has gone into seeing whether it actually works. The Telegraph added that two local doctors, Laura Bond and Sarah Colpus, who volunteer at the Wave Projecty presented research about it at the British Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine Conference.

Their findings were based on over 100 questionnaires filled in by young people before and after the surfing course, feedback from carers and parents and found the majority felt their confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing had improved afterwards, as well as their performance in school.

Dr Bond said: "Having volunteered with the Wave Project this year, we have seen first hand the really positive impact that the project has on young people who are referred to it.

"But now we have evidence to support the incredible feedback we have seen from clients and parents, so we hope that surfing will be taken more seriously as an intervention by medical professionals."

A big question will also be around whether this can be widened to include other types of activity and pin-pointing what it is that makes this scheme a success.

Whatever the future of the Wave Project, it is evident that it has helped at least one boy. Brandon added: "Starting new challenges like this helps me look forward to other challenges. I feel more focused and I'm not afraid to do something different."