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Our seafarers have always been hailed as modern-day heroes, thanks to them trailblazing the way for many overseas Filipino workers. What we seldom recognize, though, is how difficult their profession is and how much they sacrifice for their loved ones.
A 2017 crew welfare roundtable by Safety at Sea and UK P&I showed that suicide rates among seafarers are on the rise. A study by the Seafarers International Research Center (SIRC) revealed that psychiatric disorders among seafarers are also increasing.
Before even attempting to provide interventions for seafarers, it is best to understand what are the conditions that contribute to their mental health problems. Here are some of the most common factors:
Isolation from the outside world
Assignments usually last from six months to one year. This means, seafarers are generally cut off from their families for extended periods of time. Technology helps in maintaining relationships, thanks to messaging and video apps. It is still natural, however, for one to crave and desire physical connection and this is when loneliness can set in.
Physical demands of the job
Being a seafarer can be physically demanding. The International Maritime Health Association clearly said it, “Seafaring is one of the most physically demanding professions in one of the most dangerous work environments—the sea.”
For seafarers, there is a fine line between work hours and personal time. Because they are holed up in that vessel, work emergencies can pop up anytime of the day.
A vessel would have seafarers from different nationalities and this can be overwhelming. Cultural differences and biases appear, and these can be challenging to any seafarer. Every assignment is also different. One needs to learn the ropes and one needs to get to know his colleagues. When seafarer finally finds his rhythm, it is time get off the ship and start a new assignment.
How many times have we heard the cliché, “A girlfriend in every port?” Seafarers face a lot of temptations like infidelity, alcohol, drugs, among others. Peer pressure is strong because you’re holed up in your vessel with fellow seafarers.
Bullying and harassment
Personal differences are inevitable and it’s likely for seafarers to encounter bullies and harassment at sea. It’s also hard to avoid bullies because they are your colleagues or, worse, your own ship captain. Because you’re stuck at your assignment for the next six to 12 months, you have very limited options but to just brave through the ordeal.
Safety and security threat
If you’re lucky to find amazing colleagues and ship captain, consider yourself fortunate. The innate risks of being a seafarer, however, would always remain. Worries for your vessel sinking, catching fire, or encountering pirates are always present.
Understanding the many challenges that seafarers face everyday is an important first step in helping them address their mental health issues. It is also important for maritime associations to recognize these to develop programs to assist our seafarers.