Mental Health and Seafarers: a Canadian response

9th August 2018

The Mission to Seafarers in Canada (MtSC) is aware of the importance of mental wellbeing amongst seafarers. On a personal level I have precepted for students from the nursing programme at one of our local universities and we have done several projects on emotional wellbeing amongst seafarers.

It is a particular interest of mine and I spend a lot of time talking to seafarers about the emotional impact of their lifestyle. MtSC chaplains are encouraged to be perceptive regarding mental health issues, the problems arising from isolation and to be on the lookout for instances of bullying. The results of the latter often present as a physical ailment but with delicate questioning and gentle probing one often soon realises that bullying is occurring.

All MtSC chaplains and some volunteers attended the Crisis Preparedness course given by Dr. Marion Gibson and Lance Lucan at our annual conference in May 2018 which will enable them to deal more effectively with issues onboard.

I have seen many instances over the years where there have been mental health issues. There was recently a suicide onboard a ship here (not the first time) and several times I have encountered suicidal seafarers for whom I have obtained help regarding treatment and removal from the ship.

When the suicide occurred recently I made a connection with the local religious group and several members of the group went onboard and this reduced some of the tension. I followed up by talking to any crew members who wanted to talk one-on-one, paying special attention to the cadet who was only a few days into his first trip.

From my experience most seafarers would not admit to wanting to talk about mental health. Is that really that different from most people? The only reason I have so many conversations about it is because I am drawing from many other resources to start a conversation, my experience in psychiatric nursing, my history of being a seafarer’s wife and my years at the Mission.

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