I was sceptical when the maritime charities launched their campaign against depression at sea. Why the sudden, passionate concern over the mental heath of seafarers ? None of the old salts I have known ever talked about feeling depressed. Indeed, they all seem to have enjoyed their life as mariners.
From being a sceptic, I straightaway became a cynic when the charities started pushing the idea of wellness training for seafarers. This wasn’t a case of killing two birds with one stone. It was manipulation of public opinion — a disingenuous strategy to achieve a pecuniary agenda.
The following are excerpts from the articles I have written on the subject. I hope that they would help enlighten those who have swallowed the propaganda from the charities hook, line, and sinker.
Proponents of wellness training for seafarers say depression at sea is a common problem. They cite studies that purportedly show a rise in the number of suicides involving depressed mariners. Maybe so, but why are they raising the issue only now? Did depression amongst seafarers suddenly pop up from nowhere?
The way the maritime charities are talking about the issue makes one think that depression is an epidemic sweeping the seafaring world. Unwittingly, the do-gooders are creating an image of 21st-century seafarers as weak and vulnerable creatures who are prey to the meanderings of their own minds. Is this how the industry wants seafarers to see themselves?
There is a tendency to lump depression together with other emotional states such as loneliness and anxiety. At best, this could be misleading. At worst, it could be dangerous as seafarers might underestimate the severity of their mental condition.
Depression is a problem that is much more complex than the maritime charities would have us believe. The general environment in which seafarers operate may well be a major contributing factor, but it is not all. Depression could be due to the individual’s mental or emotional make-up. Some are simply not cut out for a job at sea and the loneliness and isolation it entails. Moreover, certain cases of depression require psychotherapy or psychotropic medication. For anyone to suggest that the issue can be addressed with “wellness” training is not only absurd. It could be dangerous.
I hear a renewed call for greater access to the internet for seafarers. Undoubtedly, connecting with family and friends on Facebook can mitigate loneliness. But I don’t see how that would improve one’s mental health or address severe cases of depression.
It is easy to understand why the maritime do-gooders are harping on seafarer mental health with such passion. They need to highlight their work and encourage donors to give more. There’s also money to be made from mental health training programmes. If and when the COVID-19 pandemic blows over, we can count on the charities to find another cause to drum up. Like other players on the maritime stage, they, too, have to make a living.