Navigating mental health for maritime workers

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2024 | Commercial Seamen, Longshore And Harbor Workers |

Physical injuries might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the risks of being a commercial seaman. There’s no shortage of news about injuries due to slipping on the deck or accidents due to winch failures and swinging cargo. The Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWC) allow you to recover compensation for injuries at sea, but what about your mental health?

According to this review of psychological studies on maritime workers, there are many factors that can contribute to poor mental health, including prolonged time at sea, limited social support, exposure to noise and vibration, and more.

Here are some of the unique stressors that you might face as a maritime worker:

Social isolation and lack of social support

Seamen and fishermen often spend extended periods at sea with only their crewmates for company. Being away from your family and loved ones for a long time can result in loneliness and homesickness. Experiencing conflicts with a senior officer or fellow crewmates can also contribute to feeling alienated and excluded. Distress due to these issues can make you more prone to risky behaviors or neglect safety precautions.

Fatigue and lack of sleep

Commercial maritime workers often have a strenuous work schedule, which can lead to:

  • Long hours
  • Irregular shifts
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns
  • Insufficient rest periods
  • Demanding workloads
  • A difficult environment on board

These can take a toll on both your physical and mental health. Constant fatigue can impair your decision-making and hand-eye coordination, increasing your risk for falls or collision accidents.

Anxiety or depression

Everything from lack of recreational and welfare facilities to job insecurity and piracy threats contribute to high levels of stress. This, in turn, can lead to more serious, long-term mental health issues like C-PTSD and anxiety. Extreme stress and depression have also been known to weaken your immune system, leading to slower recovery times or chronic health conditions.

Mental health is part of your overall health.

As renowned psychiatrist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk says, “The body keeps the score.” These psychosocial issues and common maritime injuries are often caused by the same thing: unsafe working conditions. Your mental well-being and physical health are more intertwined than you think.