Lonely at Sea

“There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.”

Being away at sea for many months with a limited number of companions, seeing the same face every single day, feeling of being away from loved ones at home and hell lot of feelings which remains inside of a Seafarer.

With times, this feelings of loneliness at sea is increasing and what can be done to make the situation better.

Loneliness is a feeling of not having access to the quantity and quality of social company that we want. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Some enjoy being alone and some feel lonely in the company of others. We all know how loneliness feels because this is part of our natural feelings as social human beings and most will have felt loneliness at some point in their lives – perhaps only briefly. When we register the feeling of loneliness most of us will naturally seek the company of others and the feeling goes away.

There are many and complex reasons as to why loneliness can become a problem and this feeling of isolation can have a serious and detrimental effect on your mental and physical health.

The longer you feel lonely the more difficult it becomes to seek the company of others. So, it’s very important to keep an eye on yourself and on your colleagues and try to prevent these feelings of loneliness taking hold.

Loneliness at Sea – Why Feeling of Isolation is Increasing?

Feelings of isolation and loneliness are increasingly impacting seafarers. Living and working onboard a ship can have its positives, but where there is a lack of camaraderie, friendship and interaction then seafarers report feeling alone, homesick and depressed.

Seafarers Happiness Index by happyatsea.org responses feature many comments about increasingly quick turnarounds in port, short voyages in and out of ports, and spikes in workload mean that there is never really any quality time to relax and get to know colleagues better.

The impact on mental health of feeling these negative emotions is perhaps obvious and is a real problem for seafarers today. Here’re some of the problems being faced by seafarers resulting in depression – Loneliness at Sea

1. Increasing Workload
2. No Shore leaves due to COVID
3. Quick Load-Discharge Ports
4. Short Voyages
5. Salary and Incentives
6. No Get-together, Parties onboard.
7. Zero Alcohol Policy
8. Rude Seniors – Management

There are also concerns that too many crew do tend to retreat behind closed cabin doors, and there is too little social cohesion onboard.

Seafarers know that the answers are aboard ship, but they want companies to do more to counter the isolation they may increasingly feel. While the seafarers who spoke out, want to have a social structure onboard which encourages interaction and which develops a sense of the shipboard team, and the friendships within it.

How does one feel sailing in the sea all alone for days and months ?

Having said this many many times that – Every coin has two faces. So sailing can induce a two way feeling into you. It can be good, it can be bad too which depends on you. Some people love red, some people just don’t.

While with my experience so far sailing around the world all alone – It isn’t easy but It is worth it. I have been from India to Egypt, Once I did a 40+ days Voyage from Russia to Cuba, Mediterranean to US and back and much more…floating through various rivers through the Ozarks wilderness to the Mississippi and the gulf by myself. There were many days I never saw another person other than my crew and had no continuous contact with the outside world. The sea would be different in that, there’s no land that you can bail to if needed but being forced away from all the things we use to distract ourselves can start off being scary – You eventually end up facing Internal issues which you may not want to and eventually you deal with those and for me, that gave way to a liberation I had never had in my life. I felt more in touch with who I am and, for lack of a better term, really grew in spirit. I lost my fear of death and at the same gained a stronger desire to live – a stronger desire for relationships and a more focused sense of what I wanted to accomplish once I was back home. I don’t think you have to go to sea to experience this but, really sometimes just removing yourself from your life for a while can help you appreciate it that much more.

Here’s a one perspective of sailing alone…

– Quora @theseaholic

As a seafarer….

It is important to keep good contact with your family and friends at home. I’ve been with many of crew members who do not call at home for long period of time or some may not have available means to call home (Internet issues onboard, limited Internet facility etc). It’s also very important that you don’t neglect the everyday company of other seafarers on board your ship.

Here is some advice about what it takes to be a good leader and a good colleague, and also to help you take good care of yourself when feeling lonely.

If you are a leader – choose to be a good one! Do not be that old-rotten captain who is just known for his merciless look and very hard to cope with.

  1. Take regular tours round the ship and take the time to have informal chats
  2. Take responsibility for crew health, safety and well-being and handling conflict
  3. Encourage social activities on board and ensure that regular initiatives are taken
  4. Treat everyone on board with respect and dignity and do not tolerate bullying and harassment

Be a good colleague, be proactive and care about yourself and others – ensure that you are part of a great team!

  • Always welcome new crew members on board – it makes a big difference
  • Take initiatives – even small things like having an open door to your cabin or watching a movie in the common areas can have an impact and after a while others may join in
  • Participate in social life on board and don’t wait for others to think of all the good ideas – try and contribute ideas and help with the planning of social events
    Engage and respond to others in a respectful way and if there are any problems, deal with these as soon as possible
  • Reach out to any of your colleagues who seem to be feeling down or who have withdrawn from social life on board
  • If you feel lonely yourself, reach out to others, do something together, e.g. go to the gym or play a game, and try to maintain good links with your colleagues

How to maintain Healthy Relationship onboard

At all levels healthy relationships are built on:

  • Mutual respect – for yourself and others, even if they are different from you or disagree with your opinions
  • Trust – believe in your colleagues, take the time to listen before you jump to conclusions and ask questions about their intentions if you are in doubt
  • Good communication – ask colleagues for their input and ideas about work, but also ask them about their hobbies, families and lives away from the ship.

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The most commonly reported mental illness among seafarers is depression. This is not surprising, given their particular work situation: they spend six months at sea, far away from their loved ones. Loneliness is a natural reaction. But when does loneliness worsen into something more serious?

According to Dr. Romel Papa, chief of the Behavioral Science Division (BSD) of the National Bureau of Investigation, there are tell-tale symptoms and behavioral changes that would signal a change from ordinary loneliness into a clinical depression; in the second case, medical attention is necessary. Apart from his duties at the NBI, Dr. Papa also works with the AMOSUP (Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines) Seamen’s Hospital in Manila, to help seamen suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.

“All of us become lonely or depressed at some point in our lives. It’s a natural reaction to certain circumstances. Now, how do we know when it’s already depression? Well, first, we look at the person’s level of functioning. If a person is no longer behaving or functioning normally at work or at home, then that’s when intervention is needed,” he says.

Signs of clinical depression

Among the signs of depression are:

a) feelings of sadness or unhappiness;

b) loss of interest or pleasure in activities that a person usually enjoys;

c) hopelessness; and

d) withdrawal from work and social situations.

Coping mechanisms

“Instinctively,” Dr. Papa says, “we can find ways to cope with our depression. The principle is obvious: when we feel unhappy, we find things or engage in activities that make us happy, so we can overcome the unhappy feelings.”

Going to the mall, watching a movie, hanging out with friends—these are all very good ways to counter feelings of depression or loneliness in the case of most people. If
 a person is experiencing difficulties at work or with his or her personal life, he or she can find a relative or a friend to talk things out with. This relieves the stress, anxiety, loneliness, and other negative feelings that person may be having.

The problem for seafarers, however, 
is that most of these regular coping mechanisms are not available to them when they’re out in the middle of the ocean; there’s nowhere to go and one’s loved ones are far away.

Unfortunately, the coping mechanisms that are available to a seaman who is out at sea or who has disembarked to a port of call are not exactly healthy ones. Dr. Papa says that these coping mechanisms would include alcohol, gambling, drugs
 and women.

“Alcohol, for example,” he says, “provides a temporary solution to loneliness and depression. It makes the bad feelings go away. But there are consequences. If
 you drink alcohol too often, you can become an alcoholic. It’s the same with drugs and gambling, which could become addictions.”

And having relations with different women at the ports of call, of course, also present the risk of STDs.

Intervention and treatment

There are several ways to prevent an onset of depression or to help give support to a seafarer with clinical depression so that he can get well. Clinical depression is a real illness that can be serious or even fatal—the worst outcome of clinical depression
 is suicide.

Dr. Papa suggests several ways to deal with clinical depression among seafarers. These include:

Providing access to telecoms. Thanks to advanced telecoms technology, seafarers are now able to communicate with loved ones even if they’re overseas. Using their cellular phones or computers to link with the Internet, they can now exchange e-mails, or even chat, with their families.

“The availability of today’s telecoms technologies puts our seafarers in touch with their families, and that’s a major way of easing their loneliness,” he says.

Banning drugs and alcohol from ships.

Employers and ship officers can ensure that their seamen don’t have access to these potentially addictive substances on board their ships. Seamen who are going through a depression are more likely to use these substances to cope with their condition, which could result in an even greater problem as mentioned earlier: drug addiction or alcoholism.

Depression alert system.

Dr. Papa says that it would be good if ship owners and shipping officials put in place a system on board their ships where abnormal behavior among seamen are observed and noted. This would enable them to spot potential or existing cases of depression and make a timely intervention. “There should be people on the ship who are trained to spot warning behaviors and act
 upon them.”

Medical intervention at work.

The availability, safety and effectiveness of today’s anti-depressants make it possible to treat a seaman for depression even while he’s working on board a ship.

“Anti-depressants do not reduce alertness and they may be taken 
during the seaman’s tour of duty. In
fact, seamen who have taken anti-depressants report that they actually help them become more focused and help them become more productive,” Dr. Papa says.

The administration of anti-depressants to a working seafarer is of course, something that an employer would have to approve. There are employers who are fine with the idea, while others prefer that a seaman take time off work, get well, and come back to work when he’s recovered.

Family education and support.

A seaman who is clinically depressed has a greater chance of recovery if he is receiving support from his family.

“First of all, we have to involve the family in the treatment of a seafarer who is diagnosed with clinical depression. The family is always part of the treatment process. This means that we have to educate the seafarer’s family on what depression is and how they can deal with it best,” says Dr. Papa.

Sometimes, however, it’s the seafarer’s family itself that presents additional stressors that worsen the depression.

“There are seafarers who get worried that their wives are having affairs—and there are cases where their worst fears turn out to be true. Or, their children are entering a rebellious stage and causing problems for the entire family. All these family problems are stressors that aggravate a seafarer’s depression,” he explains.

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