If you asked any group of seafarers to describe all the adverse events that can happen to injure them or make them ill on the high seas, chances are that the answers you’d get would be quite varied.
But they probably would not include any of the mental health woes that can plague seafarers who spend weeks or even months away at sea. At an international conference on mental health that took place earlier this year in London, the Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea, it was revealed that more than 25% of seafarers suffered symptoms of depression on the high seas.
Perhaps even more distressing was that few sufferers ever reach out for assistance managing their depression.
The study was jointly sponsored by Yale University and Sailors’ Society, an international maritime charity. They studied over 1,000 seafarers from all over the world. They discovered that roughly 26% of those living and working on oceangoing vessels experienced feelings of hopelessness and depression on multiple days over the prior two-week period.
Being apart from their loved ones was a major factor in these feelings of isolation. But contract lengths and perhaps surprisingly, the amount and quality of their on-board meals also played a role in the seafarers’ depression.
Of those who self-admitted to experiencing some signs of depression, 45% admitted they had not sought any help. Another near-third reached out to friends or family. But just 21% reported discussing these matters with a colleague aboard the ship regardless of their proximity to them for extended periods of time.
That may be due in large part to the image they may feel that they must portray to continue to work in such a “macho” industry. One 29-year-old navigation officer from London spoke at the conference. He discussed how he had to take time off from work to come to terms with the situation.
He said, “The reason I became ill was primarily my job – the workload, the sleep deprivation and the pressures of the job. Our industry is generally more ‘macho’ than many others. The attitude is . . . toughen up and get on with it. There is a fear of talking about it openly, of losing your job.”
If you suffer the same symptoms, you may be able to seek compensation and other assistance to recover and continue working as a seafarer.