Water Therapy

5 November 2019 | Midlands

Tom Oates

How scuba diving is helping veterans with PTSD

For many war veterans it’s when they leave the battlefield that many of their real problems begin. Tom Oates developed post traumatic stress disorder following his return home from active duty after his vehicle was blown up in Afghanistan in 2013. 

His was looking to address his mental health, when tragedy struck. Just months after he returned home to Batley, West Yorkshire, his fiancee was killed.

Now the former Scots Guard is just one of dozens of veterans being helped by a unique charity trying to bring back hope to that particular community.

Deptherapy uses scuba diving to support ex-servicemen and women like Tom who have suffered life changing physical or mental injuries and illness.

He says: “I was happy to be home, and had proposed to my girlfriend Sarah. We were busy planning our wedding but then one day we were returning from a friend’s wedding when a car hit us as we crossed a road. I was holding Sarah’s hand but she was a fraction behind me and was struck from behind. I sat with her as she slipped away.”

The tragedy left Tom at breaking point and in the months that followed he tried to take his own life. “I was diagnosed with complex PTSD,” he said, “and I really struggled. I just couldn’t process what had happened to me.”

Tom sought professional help, but found no-one could help him as his problems were so complex. It was only when he was introduced to Deptherapy 18 months ago that his head began to clear.

The charity takes veterans to the Red Sea in Egypt for a week where they undergo an intensive and specially-adapted scuba diving programme. 

Those with mental health challenges like Tom manage to find relief while under the water. While those with physical injuries say the weightlessness of scuba diving allows them to feel pain free.

The charity also provides 24 hour support for programme members when they get back. Once home, they are encouraged to return to complete two more advanced training programmes.

Tom says:  “They’ve been amazing. When I’m underwater I feel like all my problems have gone away. It’s an ongoing battle but the diving has just been so good for me. But it is not just that but the package of ongoing support they offer too.

“If it was not for this charity I would not be here today. Deptherapy have brought me back from the darkness and made me the person I am today.”

Earlier this year Tom and another veteran completed a 24hr fundraising dive, raising nearly £5,000 for the charity. He is also now training as a scuba diving instructor with Deptherapy so he can help out on future trips, as well planning a new career in marine biology. 

“They helped me, so now I want to give back and help others. It’s the least I can do.”

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