Ask Dr Dazza | Recreational fishing contributes to positive mental health

Ask Dr Dazza | Recreational fishing contributes to positive mental health

WE’VE all seen the headline numbers that an estimated one in two Australians aged 16-85 years old experience a mental disorder during their lifetime, and an estimated one in five Australians aged 16-85 years have experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months. Mental disorders are slightly more prevalent in men, but this does not make them any less relevant for women.

So, what has this got to do with recreational fishing? Everything.

Recreational fishing contributes positively to personal wellbeing and mental health. In one of the few Australian studies of its type, Curtin University identified the health and wellbeing benefits of recreational fishing centred on a general “positive state of mind” including stress relief, relaxation, mental health, clarity of mind, happiness and fun. The value anglers placed on recreational fishing was highlighted by approximately 80 per cent of survey respondents identifying fishing as important or very important to their health and wellbeing. Recreational fishing can build an individual’s self-esteem, and this can transfer to other parts of their life.

Fishing is a mindfulness activity and had been long before the term was coined and became popular among psychologists and self-help gurus. Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment. That is fishing in a nutshell – focusing on what you are sensing or feeling in that moment! While many an angler may baulk at the various mindfulness activities that feature in self-help guides, they are often doing similar exercises in a very different context but still deriving the benefits from them.

Beyond benefits to the individual, the value of recreational fishing to society has traditionally centred on expenditure of disposal income and the purchase of equipment and boats. This is a very narrow view as the positive mental health benefits can generate much broader economic benefits and benefits to society. Recreational fishing can reduce the mental health burden of society and reduce demand on medical and health services. You should be able to claim part of the costs of a fishing trip on Medicare! COVID restrictions where fishing is prohibited for a significant period add to the mental health burden of individuals who rely on it for wellness.

In recognition of how the benefits of recreational fishing for mental health are now part of mainstream understanding, there is a dedicated Queensland-based Facebook group – Fishing for Mental Health. The group was developed to help people that have mental health challenges (e.g. autism, bipolar, social anxiety). It is established as a positive environment for people to post fishing catches and questions and share their experiences. It’s a great group to join and realise that if you are having mental health challenges, you are not alone in the recreational fishing sector.

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