April 1, 2024

Mental Health Issues in Seafarers

Mental health issues in seafarers have always been a concern, but the impact of COVID-19 heightened these issues even more and brought the issue into the open. Crew members faced a multitude of additional stressors while at sea during COVID, including concerns about family at home (especially if they were from high COVID prevalence countries), prolonged length of contracts (up to 400,000 seafarers beyond 8 months at one point), multiple extended contracts, travel restrictions getting home, inability to be present to mourn deceased relatives, forbidden or greatly limited shore leave and financial stressors. These were added to the everyday stressors potentially experienced by all crew such as strained interpersonal relationships in closed quarters with long contracts, threats of violence, sleep disturbances, boredom, low job satisfaction. performance of same job for prolonged periods – especially if high risk positions, and lack of communication with friends and family back home. Isolation is a key factor in driving mental health issues, as crew members often feel cut off from their support systems. Certain crew may be hindered by cultural and language barriers in seeking help. Additionally, certain cultures have a very high threshold for help-seeking behaviors and this may serve as a barrier to early identification, thereby increasing suicide risk. Studies have shown up to 20% of crew have contemplated suicide. The issues of high stress, isolation and cultural variations in response to mental health problems must be managed pro-actively at the ship and corporate levels with pro-active program development and interventions. Officers may be as severely affected as crew, limiting their potential for assistance and necessitating shared onboard and shoreside solutions. In addition to suicide and the direct manifestations of mental health issues, crew may become more prone to mistakes and accidents putting the ship, themselves, and fellow crew at risk. A very important consideration is that underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are exacerbated by the conditions at sea. The motivation for going to see must be examined and considered. If it is to escape issues at home, it is rarely, if ever, effective. Isolation from normal social support systems can unmask underlying mental illness. It is not uncommon to see the first manifestations of schizophrenia in a newly hired crew member during the first few months of their first contract and first time away from home. Understanding and managing culturally specific mental health issues is crucial in providing effective support to seafarers.

LINK: https://seafarertimes.com/2020-21/node/8894