In today's world, where over 25 percent of individuals may experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, the maritime industry faces unique challenges, particularly for seafarers in offshore roles. As we stand united with New Zealand's Gumboot Friday to raise mental health awareness, it's evident that seafarers are navigating a different kind of storm. The question isn't whether mental health issues are on the rise; it's how we can combat these rising tides within the maritime community.
Seafarers Mental Health Challenges in Maritime
The maritime industry has only recently begun acknowledging the mental health concerns faced by seafarers. Yet, why are those at sea more susceptible to these challenges than their land-based counterparts? Let's explore these below:
With limited internet access and lengthy periods away from home, seafarers experience profound isolation. Shockingly, even today, up to 77 percent of seafarers have restricted or no access to the internet. Could this communication blackout be at the core of the escalating mental health issues?...No facebook?
The Physical Toll
Seafaring is renowned as one of the most physically demanding and hazardous professions. Misreported working hours reveal the shared pressures faced by seafarers. The strenuous split shift patterns and relentless fatigue at sea take a toll on their mental well-being.
Quick port turnarounds have made seafaring akin to a floating prison, leading to depression, psychotic breakdowns, and even suicide.
Multinational Crews and Isolation
The rise of multinational crews brings language barriers and cultural isolation, making it challenging for seafarers to connect meaningfully. This lack of camaraderie and shared understanding takes a toll on mental well-being.
Reduced Crew Numbers, Increased Stress
The decreasing number of crew members onboard contributes significantly to the growing stress levels offshore. Job demands, control over work, relationships, and role within the organization all play a part in amplifying work-related stress.
Substance Abuse: A Hazardous Escape
Drugs and alcohol, used by seafarers to escape the harsh realities of their working lives, intensify emotional instability and safety risks. These substances are, unfortunately, a ticking time bomb that poses dangers even when seafarers are off duty.
The Cruel Face of Bullying and Harassment
Bullying and harassment are unfortunately happening when out at sea, affecting crew motivation and productivity, not to mention team moral.
Criminalization: A Lingering Fear
No matter what size or type of boat you have, people make mistakes. Today with the Health and Safety Acts, Maritime Authorities, Unions etc, Seafarers live in constant fear of being held responsible for maritime incidents, and research shows this also significantly contributes to mental health problems at sea.
The Heartbreaking Cost of Poor Mental Health
Tragically, the ultimate price of untreated mental health problems is the loss of seafarers to suicide. The economic toll of such incidents on shipping lines is substantial.
Toward a Brighter Horizon
Gumboot Friday plays an excellent part in highlighting mental health and wellness within the community. Support services like Mission to Seafarers and the Seafarers Hospital Society are providing resources and support for seafarers' mental health.
Digital platforms like Big White Wall offer anonymous mental health support, while targeted publications like 'Managing Traumatic Stress - Guidance for Maritime Organizations' provide essential insights.
As we strive for better mental health support in the maritime industry, we're setting a course for a brighter, safer future. With initiatives like Gumboot Friday and having open discussions, we're ensuring that seafarers don't have to face the tempest of mental health issues alone. Instead, they can embark on a voyage towards well-being, knowing that professional help is just a click away, wherever the sea may take them.