International maritime charity Sailors’ Society is calling on American shipping companies to ensure their seafarers receive wellness training to best prepare them for life at sea.
The move coincides with National Maritime Day (22 May) and is in response to a study into seafarers’ mental health the charity conducted with Yale University, which highlighted that more than a quarter of seafarers suffer from depression.
Sandra Welch, Sailors’ Society’s deputy CEO, said, “Long contracts at sea, thousands of miles away from friends and family – often with inconsistent or no Wi-Fi – can be incredibly isolating and challenging.”
The charity launched its Not On My Watch campaign last month to highlight the issue of suicide and depression at sea.
Nearly six per cent of deaths at sea are attributable to suicide, increasing dramatically if probable suicides – seafarers going missing at sea under suspicious circumstances – are taken into account.
To put this into context, in 2016, 1.6 per cent of deaths in the United States were recorded as suicide.
Sandra said, “These are shockingly high rates – and one suicide is one too many. The fact that more than three times as many deaths at sea are attributable to suicide highlights how urgent an issue mental health at sea is.”
Since launching a petition, calling for wellness training to be made mandatory, more than 2,000 people have signed, with 160 people from America adding their name to the campaign.
One merchant seafarer to sign is Captain Dan Thompson, who gradually fell into depression through his work on cargo and cruise ships.
“The maritime industry is a very high pressure industry and it’s very easy for people to start getting affected,” he said.
“Depression and anxiety is a crippling illness.”
Capt Thompson said that while senior officers did question him about whether life at home was alright, which it was, they didn’t ask him about his mental health and it was clear they didn’t have the understanding of mental health issues to give him the right support. Eventually, his family persuaded him that there was something wrong and he took time out of his career at sea to recover through counselling and medication.
He believes education and training is a fundamental starting point to tackling mental health problems at sea.
“If the officers were aware of mental illness – what to look out for, the signs and symptoms, what could be done – then I think they could have helped me,” he said. “Instead this continued significantly for three or four years.
“I’m supporting Not On My Watch because having been through depression and anxiety myself I know the troubles that it presented me both personally and through my career. It’s so important that we start this now to ensure that other people in a similar position to me don’t go through the same experiences that I did.”
Allison Foote, from Middletown, New Jersey, also signed the petition. She said: “I’m signing because I know just how isolating and dark life at sea can feel.”
Sailors’ Society, which was founded in 1818, supports seafarers and their families at home, in port and at sea through the delivery of chaplaincy, education and the relief of poverty and distress.
To sign Sailors’ Society’s petition, visit: https://tinyurl.com/y5b7gd5o