A UNIVERSITY lecturer has been hailed one of the nation’s lifesavers for supporting Army veterans with their mental health.

Mark Wheeler, PhD researcher at Essex University, has been looking at mental health care at the Wivenhoe campus for the past seven years.

Dr Wheeler, a high intensity psychological therapist, has been focusing on military veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. His research has been incredibly successful in reducing symptoms.

Dr Wheeler, from Colchester, used fishing trips as a way of getting veterans to open up about their feelings.

Essex University has a strong background in green exercise, meaning any outdoor activity has a benefit to mental health.

Being outdoors, and away from the urban areas, there is less of a perceived threat.

In October, he took ten veterans on a week-long fishing trip to the south of France to research the benefits of the activity.

Dr Wheeler recognised former soldiers were not receiving the mental health support they needed. This led him to develop the Peer Outdoor Exposure Therapy programme. The programme comprises three elements – green exercise, encouragement for veterans to share their experiences and ongoing peer support.

He said: “The results have been remarkable.

“Within a day we can see a difference in participants.

“Three years after the original intervention one participant with severe symptoms has started an Open University degree, has got engaged and become a father again.

“Others have returned to full-time employment and re-established relationships.”

The success of the programme has been recognised by the NHS and charities including Veterans First and Combat Stress who continue to refer clients to the programme.

Universities UK also included Dr Wheeler in their list of the top 100 lifesavers across the country.

Universities were invited to nominate an individual or group who made a significant contribution to the nation’s health and wellbeing.