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Undersea Hyperb Med. 2018 Sep-Oct;45:505-509.

The panic triangle: onset of panic in scuba divers.

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University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Panic arising from physical or psychological stress is a common issue in reported incidents and accidents in scuba diving. Due to its effect on perception, thinking and diver behavior, the panic reaction is often a significant factor in the generation or escalation of problems, potentially leading to injuries and fatalities. The instinctive behaviors associated with panic are incompatible with the constraints of scuba diving (e.g., flight response to threat, leading to rapid ascent). Although the dangers are well known, the psychological mechanisms of panic and the implications for prevention/risk reduction are not sufficiently highlighted to recreational divers. In applied psychology, there are grounded theoretical models which describe the onset and maintenance of anxiety and panic, and an evidence base for approaches to anxiety management. For example, these models are used within structured psychological approaches for people experiencing anxiety disorders; and panic attacks are resolvable. Based on these models and underlying theory, this article proposes a new, accessible model for panic in divers. The potential uses of the model are to: (1) provide a simple framework for divers to understand the onset of panic; (2) promote the need for adequate training; (3) describe the importance of staying within training standards, qualifications and personal limitations; (4) support diver and dive educator understanding of individual factors in panic reactions (e.g. psychiatric conditions) placing greater emphasis on psychological fitness to dive; and (5) draw attention to approaches to improved regulation of emotion and promote individual responsibility.


diving ; diving incidents ; instruction – diving ; panic ; psychology ; stress ; theory-based advice

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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