Achieving better mental health might be just an ocean away

18 Jul 2018

Dr Easkey Britton, researcher, NEAR Health, NUI Galway. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Scientist and surfer Dr Easkey Britton spoke at Inspirefest 2018 about how the water that surrounds us can play a crucial part in our mental wellbeing.

Mindfulness and achieving wellbeing are becoming increasingly important topics of conversation among mental health advocates. For Dr Easkey Britton, there is no better place to unwind than the ocean.

Speaking at Inspirefest 2018, the scientist and surfer spoke of how the simple experience of being in water can leave a powerful imprint on our body and mind because it is such a multisensory experience.

“It’s visually stimulating, with a thousand shades of constantly moving blue,” she said, “and wave-exposed coastlines release negative ions believed to alter our biochemistry, lowering our cortisol and lighting up our mood.”

In her work, she has seen a strong and troubling divide between what we determine as society and the oceans, despite the fact that the latter have been fundamentally shaping our lives for thousands of years.

This led her to find ways of overcoming this disconnect as a researcher with the Nature and Environment to Attain and Restore (NEAR) Health project.

Being undertaken at NUI Galway, the project aims to connect people with blue and green nature spaces.

More generally, the NEAR Health project is to design and pilot inclusive, nature-based solutions to assist communities in valuing the environment, maintaining healthy lifestyles, and promoting and restoring wellbeing.

Becoming ocean-literate

Britton has seen first-hand the effects of the ocean on our wellbeing as part of the Be Like Water project whereby she travelled to Iran to connect young girls and women with surfing the oceans, something that simply wasn’t encouraged among them until that point.

Unfortunately, this precious resource is under threat from waste discarded by us, with estimates suggesting that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

The only solution, Britton said, is to make society more ‘ocean-literate’, thereby connecting us again with the oceans to understand their importance and power.

Speaking of Ireland, she said: “What if we could become the first nation to be ocean-literate, fluent in the language of the sea? It’s through this understanding that there’s empathy and connection, and that’s how we overcome the challenges that we seem to face.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic