An international mental health partnership kicked off this week to help those in marine trades, including fishermen, cope with the isolation, disconnection, anxiety and other challenges connected to making a living from the sea.
Call lines have been set up to encourage everyone in maritime work - from longshoremen and cruise ship staff to scallopers and commercial fishermen - to seek help when they need it.
“We realize they are on the water and it may be some time before they are in port or in a place they call home. Our helpline volunteers' goal is to help the caller devise a safety plan,” said Samaritans’s Executive Director Darcy Lee in an emailed message.
Lee leads the local Samaritans Southcoast office which has been designated the U.S. headquarters for the program officially called the Seafarers International Emotional Support Services (SIESS). The program was started in partnership with Befrienders Worldwide, the international arm of Samaritans in the United Kingdom and the umbrella network of 350 suicide
prevention agencies around the globe.
SIESS supports seafarers experiencing emotional crisis or distress anywhere, anytime. Four centers - SamaritansSouthcoast representing the USA, Spain, China/Hong Kong, and the Philippines - are available day and night to offer assistance to any individual seafarer in emotional crisis or distress wherever they are in the world, according to a released statement.
“Befrienders Worldwide recognizes the vital role that every seafarer performs for the global economy. They do this in difficult and often high-risk environments,” said Captain David Watkins, Befrienders Worldwide’s communication director. “Not only that, but seafarers are often a long way from home and loved ones for extended periods. This can lead some to feel lonely, isolated, and disconnected. Such feelings can be experienced when the seafarer works on commercial trading ships, cruise ships, fishing vessels, tugs, or military ships. It has long been recognized that extended periods of separation from loved ones and emotional support can impair mental health and wellbeing.”
Lee said her helpline volunteers are trained to ask open-ended questions related to the maritime industries. For example, has the crew person spoken to the captain or first mate about their issues, concerns, length of the voyage, safety, crew morale, treatment, ability to access services in port, etc.
“Most of the time, people involved in the New Bedford fishing industry will not be able to call us while out at sea unless they have satellite phones, but they can call us when they are shoreside,” she said. “Large ships for commerce do have internet services and satellite access, so it is easier for their crews to call while at sea.”
Anyone involved in the maritime, shipping, wind, or shore-side industries is encouraged to visit https://help.befrienders.org and click on “Emotional Help for Seafarers” for center contact information or call Samaritans Southcoast’s dedicated SIESS phone line at 508-673-3720 or +1-508-673-3720 internationally. The line is staffed from 8 a.m. - 11 p.m. EDT, seven days a week.
“The pandemic has presented unique challenges for seafarers, including record backlogs of containers at key U.S. ports,” said Lee. “We are fully prepared to take calls from mariners and port workers in Long Beach and Los Angeles, Calif. as well as ports along the Eastern seaboard.”