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Therapist Treats Mental Illness Through Extreme Sports

The diver did not wear an automatic activation device that deploys the parachute when the diver cannot.

Seattle-based therapist Brandon Stogsdill has built off his own experiences with adrenaline rushes to help treat patients with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Now, new research is backing his idea up.

While enduring a troubled childhood, Stogsdill suffered from depression and became involved in what he refers to as a seedy lifestyle, which he details in his book. He began to break into houses and sell drugs, among other illegal activities, KPLU reported. During this time, he purchased a gun for protection, which he said gave him a sense of power he was unable to feel before.

“And something happened that I never anticipated, which was a boost of, just, power,” he told KPLU. “I just found my drug of choice was this overwhelming feeling of power.”

Some time later, Stogsdill ended up pulling his gun’s trigger, landing himself in prison for more than three years. It was at this time he said he had a realization about his life. He made the decision to attend college, where he earned his degree and went on to receive a Masters of Clinical Psychology at the University of Washington.

Stogsdill said what kept him sane throughout his education was snowboarding and riding BMX bikes. He now works as a child mental health specialist at Sound Mental Health, and at one point questioned whether or not the thrill gained from action sports could actually be used as a treatment for mental illness.

“My hypothesis at the time was, it should transfer their risky behavior into a constructive alternative, and among adolescents, physical activity decreases mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety,” he told KPLU.

New research has since been published that supports his idea, stating that extreme sports can establish connectedness and well-being among people. With this in mind, Stogsdill wanted to test out the hypothesis on his own. He took 10 children between the ages of 11 and 17 to iFly Indoor Skydiving in Tukwila, which houses a vertical wind tunnel that simulates skydiving.

In attendance was 15-year-old Mikayla Cheney, who began counseling two years ago when she sunk into depression after her brother committed suicide. She had begun cutting herself, and said the pain gave her relief.

“I’m scared and I’m anxious. I’m really scared of heights and I’ve only been on a plane once,” she told KPLU before partaking in the extreme sport. “I know if I can overcome that, I can overcome all these other things in my life.”

After Cheney came out of the wind tunnel, the reporter described her as exhilarated.

“He held me and we went up—straight up in the air. That’s when I screamed! Just so much adrenaline. And I was kind of freaking out, but it was the good kind of scared,” she said.

She said when you’re flying, you can’t help but live in the present moment.

“I’m in the air right now and I need to focus on how my body is moving, and how I’m going to go up in the air,” she said. “You’re mindful of what’s going on right in front of you, and you don’t need to worry about anything else.”

Stogsdill said this healthy release of emotion is what fuels him to keep establishing the relationship between adrenaline and mental health. He is now working with the Australian psychologist who published the study related to his hypothesis to learn more and said he hopes extreme sports can help restore the mental balance many people, like himself, need.

Image from Douglas S. Smith on the Wikimedia Commons

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