Go fish! Fishing prescribed for anxiety and depression by NHS

Laura Hampson
·4-min read
Fishing social group 'Tackling Minds' wants to offer the scheme to people suffering with mental health problems (SWNS)
Fishing social group Tackling Minds wants to offer the scheme to people suffering with mental health problems. (SWNS)

A hospital trust in Manchester has become the first to prescribe fishing to people with anxiety and depression.

Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust has teamed up with fishing social group Tackling Minds to offer the scheme to people suffering with mental health problems.

GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals can now prescribe angling instead of antidepressants and anxiety medications.

Read more: How to overcome anxiety about seeing people again once lockdown lifts

The trust hopes that nature, quiet reflection, meeting new people and learning a new skill could help people battling issues including addiction and depression.

Tackling Minds founder David Lyons started the group after struggling with alcohol addiction and anxiety disorder.

Research says that being near bodies of water can help to lower stress and anxiety (SWNS)
Research says that being near bodies of water can help to lower stress and anxiety. (SWNS)

"I’m so passionate about it,” Lyons says of the new initiative. “The whole idea comes from me getting back into fishing after about 15 years. I have tried about a million and one different medications and therapies.

“I’ve been through detox four times, and fishing has been 100% more effective than medications or therapy. It has helped me massively. Fishing is an escape from everyday worries. It is a place you can go to that is calm."

The first patients prescribed fishing therapy have already taken to the waterside and organisers hope it will be rolled out nationwide soon, as part of the NHS' social prescribing initiative.

Read more: ‘I am terrified’ - Meet the people who preferred life in lockdown

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“You make amazing memories with people either through a day catching fish, or a day having a laugh and a bit of banter,” Lyons continues.

“Last week I took my 13-year-old nephew out fishing for the first time. There aren’t words for how happy I felt to see him learning about fish he hadn’t seen before and how they behave.”

Lyons adds fishing keeps your mind occupied and, when you’re not on the water, you’re “setting goals, watching videos, reading magazines and thinking over your last session”.

“It’s a form of mild exercise, so someone suffering from an injury can use it as part of recovery. Watching the float and the water is calm and therapeutic,” he says.

Founder of Tackling Minds, David Lyons (SWNS)
Founder of Tackling Minds, David Lyons (SWNS)

Social prescribing, also sometimes known as community referral, is a means of enabling health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services

The best fishing spots in the UK

  • Brighton, Sussex: You’ll find cod, sole and pollock off the coast and mackerel and red mullet off the harbour.

  • Perth, Scotland: Head to the River Tay for some of the best salmon fishing in the UK.

  • Swansea, Wales: The River Wye offers barbel and pike, while off the coast you’ll reel in cod and bass.

  • Newquay, Cornwall: Conger eels, sea bream, cod and pollock can be caught here as well as bigger game like blue sharks.

  • Windermere, Cumbria: Lake Windermere is your best bet for the likes of arctic charr and brown trout, and you’ll also find salmon and sea trout in the spring.

It has been widely used by healthcare professionals in the past to encourage people to take part in befriending schemes or healthy eating courses.

Lyons says this is the first time fishing has been added as an official option for health care professionals. 

Now fishing is available as an option for all health professionals including GPs, occupational therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists, in all health institutions, and can be prescribed instead of or alongside antidepressants and anxiety medications.

Read more: How to reduce stress, according to a counsellor

All the kit and coaching will be provided by Tackling Minds, a local not-for-profit group launched in November 2020. It received £10,000 in National Lottery funding and financial support from Rochdale Council and the Angling Trust.

Each participant gets a qualified angling coach trained to work with people in vulnerable situations, and each group has support workers. The fish are released after they have been caught.

“At the moment we are concentrating on the local area, but we plan to expand,” Lyons says.

“I have been contacted by health professionals throughout the country, as far as Ireland, and I’m in contact with other, similar, fishing groups. It’s quite frustrating because there is nothing on a national scale yet.

"It is my vision to grab this opportunity to expand and that’s very exciting, because I know there is a demand and know how successful it can be.”

The first patients prescribed fishing therapy have already taken to the water (SWNS)
The first patients prescribed fishing therapy have already taken to the water. (SWNS)

According to the 2015 book, Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols, simply being next to water can be calming for the mind.

The research-backed book also reveals that being near bodies of water can help to lower stress and anxiety, increase your sense of wellbeing and happiness and lower your heart and breathing rate, instilling a deeper sense of calm.

Lyons is fundraising to buy a van to help more people. To donate visit: gf.me/u/zqizhh

Additional reporting by SWNS