In a sea of day-to-day chaos, Joel Pilgrim is bringing calm
“ THE ocean calms my restless soul.” It’s a saying many of us may have heard, but for Joel Pilgrim those words ring true and he’s building a movement to share the calm. The keen surfer of more than 20 years and mental health occupational therapist has combined his two great loves to change the mental health landscape. That movement is Waves of Wellness, a form of surf therapy, which he’s bringing to Noosa this year. “Surfing is my drug and it’s a pretty good one, too,” Joel said. “For more than 20 years it’s been a big part of my life. It’s always been something I’ve turned to to cope with the BS that I’ve experienced. “I’m rapt to be coming to Noosa. I think it’s really good for us that it’s coming to the Sunshine Coast, rather than the Gold Coast,” he said. “The feedback we’ve had is that communities up there are crying out for these services. “People have reached out to us so it’s important that we are there. There seem to be a lot of people feeling isolated.” The idea for the program began when Joel was working with a client one-on-one and had the opportunity to take him surfing. “That’s when I saw how profound the experience was for him. I realised I needed to create this program. That was in 2014.” The WOW Surfing Experience is an eight-week evidence based learn-to-surf program for people experiencing mental health issues. It helps functional recovery, while promoting social inclusion, engagement and enhanced quality of life. The primary focus of the program is to introduce surfing to participants as a way to improve physical health, mental health and well-being in a neutral, non-intrusive environment. Do you need basic surfing skills to join in? “Absolutely not,” says Joel. “It’s about learning to surf, doing something completely different and being out of your comfort zone.” The program, which started in Newcastle and at Bondi in Sydney, isn’t all surfing either. It’s also about creating social connections and a safe space where people feel comfortable sharing their stories and listening to the stories of others. “There are different programs to help people with different needs,” he said.
These include programs for finding wellness targeting youth trauma, juvenile justice, PTSD returned services and emergency services personnel program and NDIS recipients. They have recently expanded into corporate well-being which focuses on the importance of positive mental health and well-being in the workplace. Early intervention is also a focus of Joel’s work and he has devised an educational program to discuss mental health in schools. “Half of all mental health issues emerge by the age of 14 so it’s really important to start that conversation with children and then we might be able to prevent lifelong difficulties with mental health issues by giving them strategies to deal with the ups and downs of life,” he said. Joel uses the analogy of a broken arm. “In school everyone rushes to sign the cast. “The kid with the broken arm is a hero among his or her friends, but people experiencing mental health issues don’t always have the same support. “Mental health is invisible, but it should be treated like any other injury. It’s totally OK not to be OK and you don’t have to – ever – go it alone,” he said. The Waves of Wellness programs are suitable for all ages and Joel says he’s had participants aged from 12 up to 62. He said dealing with mental health is “not just about dealing with crisis, but also about finding healthy outlets for people who are struggling, recovering and doing fine”. Joel’s outlet has been to reconnect with the ocean as often as possible and he says he loves the water so much that he would sleep in the ocean if he could. “For me, definitely being able to create personal experiences for people on a daily basis is life-changing. “I’ve always had the opportunity to surf. For those people who don’t, I enjoy giving them the opportunity to do something that they’ve never had the opportunity to do before.” If you, or someone you know, would benefit from joining the WOW program, go to www.foundationwow.org or contact [email protected]dationwow.org.