Commenting on this call, Sandra Welch, Sailors’ Society’s deputy CEO, explained that 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.
To help seafarers, the charity launched its Not On My Watch campaign last month to highlight the issue of suicide and depression at sea. Namely, about 6% of deaths at sea are attributed to suicide, increasing dramatically if probable suicides, such as seafarers going missing at sea under suspicious circumstances, are taken into consideration. In fact, in 2016, 1.6% of deaths in the US were recorded as suicide.
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
Ms. Welch said.
After initiating a petition, calling for wellness training to be made mandatory, over 2,000 people have signed, with 160 people from America adding their name to the campaign.
Describing his experience on the matte, a merchant seafarer, Captain Dan Thompson, who gradually fell into depression through his work on cargo and cruise ships, highlighted:
The maritime industry is a very high pressure industry and it’s very easy for people to start getting affected. Depression and anxiety is a crippling illness. Particularly towards the end, before I started getting help, my interest in the job was non-existent. I’d say I was struggling to perform to a reasonable standard
Capt Thompson said that while senior officers did question him about whether life at home was alright, which it was, they did not ask him about his mental health and it was clear they could not understand mental health issues to give him the right support. Eventually, his family convinced him that there was something wrong and he took time out of his career at sea to recover through counselling and medication.
Now, he believes education and training is a vital point to tackling mental health problems at sea. He explains that if the officers were aware of mental illness, such as what to look out for, the signs and symptoms, what could be done, then they could have helped him more.
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
In addition, Allison Foote, from Middletown, New Jersey, also signed the petition, saying that she signed it because she knows just how isolating and dark life at sea can feel.