SWIMMING in the cold sea off Brighton probably doesn’t appeal to many Australians, who are used to rather warmer water.

But for one, it has proved a real lifesaver.

Melodie, a communications worker, who asked not to use her surname, says sea swimming helped her combat a mental breakdown she had two years ago.

The 34-year-old, who lives in Kemp Town, said: “I was working in London in a fast-paced, male-dominated job where the management team would think you didn’t know anything because you were young or a woman.

“One day, I was yelled at and everything came together in a perfect storm. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I had a mental breakdown.” Melodie said that afterwards she barely recognised herself.

She said: “I became very agoraphobic, which is uncharacteristic for me as I am always the first to invite people into my home.

“I became wary of leaving the house. People said I didn’t look depressed, but mental health does not have a distinct look.”

Melodie moved to Brighton and immediately felt the benefits of being near the sea.

She said: “Just to be able to sit on the beach had massive benefits. If you look at house prices a lot of the most in-demand houses are by the sea, so I think it’s quite a primal desire just to be near it.”

Then she found out about Brighton Swimming Club, whose members swim in the sea every day, and life became even better.

Melodie said: “I grew up in Australia and have always swum, but only in the summer.

“I met Jasper [Stevens] who runs the swimming club and he’s a powerhouse in his seventies who swims every day all year-round.

“So I said, ‘if he can do it, so can I’, but I knew I would need to go with a group as I couldn’t persuade myself to get into the freezing water on my own.”

But once she did, Melodie quickly felt the benefits. She said: “Being that cold and having to ask yourself whether or not you should keep going, you’re pushing your limits and showing you can control your own actions.

“When people talk of mental health they often emphasise a need for resilience and I think that by swimming in the morning it’s an ultimate show of resilience.

“It leaves you energised and you then start to believe you can overcome the subconscious thoughts in your head and think, ‘I’ve completed this huge challenge, so there’s no reason why I can’t get out of bed, leave the house or go shopping’.”

Melodie also enjoyed the community element associated with the club.

She said: “As you get older, and coming from another country, it becomes harder to meet new people. When you’ve overcome this activity with a group of strangers there’s a real camaraderie and it breaks down barriers which allows you to have personal conversations about topics like mental health which you wouldn’t normally be able to with new people.”

Brighton Swimming Club member Dr Mark Harper said there is a positive link between cold water swimming and mental health.

He said: “I decided to study the link between open water swimming and mental health after discovering how good I felt after swimming in the sea. I learned about the effects of regular cold water swimming on the body, specifically the way it reduces levels of inflammation, and that high levels of inflammation were associated with depression.”

Fellow club member Simon Murie, founder of open water swimming holiday company Swimtrek, said of the study: “It puts a scientific stamp on anecdotal evidence that we swimmers see a lot of the time.

“I always seem to get a positive feeling after I finish a swim, especially in colder water, and other swimmers I know also share this same experience. Whenever I’m feeling a bit down or in need of a bit of an energy boost, I find a dip in the sea off Brighton is a great way to rejuvenate body and soul. The city is simply one of the best spots in the UK for sea swimming.”

The physical effects for many sea swimmers are also dramatic. One club member who swims round the Palace Pier twice every day has lost two and a half stone, leaving him fitter and full of energy.”

But Dr Harper warned: “People should only start this activity in the summer as the sea is getting too cold now. It may be best to swim in groups or find a programme, such as the Pool to Pier programme run by Brighton Swimming School, to gain confidence.”

We sent reporter Harry Bullmore to join Brighton Swimming Club’s 7am swim and feel the benefits for himself: This is what he found.

THE sun was just beginning to rise as I hobbled across the pebbled beach towards Brighton’s eerily still water.

I had always fancied myself as fairly able in the water but soon discovered I was what the Brighton swimming club called a “fair weather swimmer”, a polite way of saying wimp.

I was accompanied by experienced sea-swimmers who told me it was actually not that cold, a statement I definitely disagreed with. Against my better judgement I continued to plod on.

Together, we waded into the water and quickly reached waist height, at which point my companion performed a rock star-like stage dive, fully submerging himself before reappearing and backstroking towards the end of the pier.

Now was the time to be bold, I bent my knees and let the water reach my shoulders before pushing forward into an awkward front crawl. Immediately, I regretted this decision as every internal organ I had iced over, yet as I began to swim this initial frosty feeling quickly thawed and was replaced by an odd sort of calm.

Aside from my fellow swimmers, there was very little noise, and the sunrise had dowsed the marina to theeast in a breathtaking pink hue. Now I could see what all the fuss was about. After the swim I felt fresh and energised, and this elated feeling continued until mid-morning.

I was later told that some members of the club had placed bets on whether or not I’d be returning for a second swim, and I’m definitely tempted. I might need a few days to defrost first though.