Christmas at sea can be a unique and challenging experience for seafarers, a situation that is true for other religions’ major holidays as well. Working on a ship means being away from family and friends for extended periods, and this can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. As a public health consultancy, COLUMBIA pure sees many situations where mental health is especially challenging for a workforce. “The experience of being at sea is rewarding and fulfilling for many seafarers, but at holiday time, it can also become laden with emotional issues,” says Kaitlyn West, COLUMBIA pure’s public health manager. There are many factors to consider in understanding the challenges.
Seafarers often spend Christmas far away from their loved ones, missing out on traditional celebrations and family gatherings. The isolation and loneliness can contribute to feelings of homesickness and sadness. Couple that isolation with the fact that ships operate 24/7, and seafarers typically work in shifts. Even on Christmas Day, duties continue, and some seafarers may find themselves working during festivities. This can add stress and fatigue to an already challenging situation.
Ships may not have the same resources and amenities as a home on land. Limited space, connectivity issues, and a lack of festive decorations can make it difficult for seafarers to create a Christmas atmosphere. Crew members on a ship come from diverse cultural backgrounds, each with its own holiday traditions. Celebrating Christmas at sea may involve navigating these differences and finding ways to accommodate various customs.
While some companies and organisations make an effort to provide support and celebrate holidays at sea, the availability of mental health and counselling services may be limited. Seafarers may face challenges in accessing the emotional support they need. Seafarer charitable organisations such as the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network, or ISWAN (seafarerswelfare.org), are extremely helpful as sources of information for coping during holidays and even operate 24-hour helplines that seafarers can access from sea.
“Christmas time is challenging enough on land, let alone at sea from a mental health standpoint,” says Marinos Kokkinis, Managing Director of OneCare Solutions, a health and well-being platform used by global maritime operators. “Furthermore, at sea you have the added concern that human errors may increase during emotionally stressful times, so we always encourage seafarers to seek help and ship operators to provide mental health training to their crew.”
It’s helpful to be aware of the most common mental health issues that may occur from this combination of being away from home, the demands of the job, and the holiday season.
- Depression and Anxiety: Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anxiety may be heightened during the holiday season.
- Stress and Fatigue: The nature of maritime work can be physically and mentally demanding, and the holiday season can exacerbate stress and fatigue.
- Isolation: Being away from family and friends can contribute to feelings of isolation and a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world.
- Coping Strategies: Seafarers may need to develop coping strategies to deal with the unique challenges of celebrating holidays at sea. This could include maintaining communication with loved ones through technology, organising onboard celebrations, and finding ways to connect with fellow crew members.
Efforts are being made within the maritime industry to address these issues, with some companies implementing initiatives to improve the well-being of seafarers, especially during the holiday season. It’s important to recognise and support the mental health needs of those who work at sea and to promote initiatives that enhance their overall well-being.
Please note, all content provided is for informational purposes, and is believed to be accurate and current at the time of posting. It should not, at any time, be used in place of appropriate professional or expert advice.