Why Stress and Depression are Crewmembers Worst Enemies Onboard?

Mar 22, 2018

Why did you sign up to work on a cruise ship? If you ask a crew member this question he/she will tell you to see the world. But you will find out that this is not the main reason. Many of us have started working on a cruise ship because we have a dream, and the reason for working on a cruise ship is so we can make that dream come true with the money that we earn. Some of you had a dream to build a house back home or start a business. Most of the crew just want to provide a good life for their families and loved ones. But what happens when that dream breaks apart and not only your dream but your entire life?

Our Ship Life, as we like to call it is hard because of many reasons, but the main reason is that we live in two worlds, the life at sea and the life on land. Actually, our new home is the ship and we go on vacation to our real home on land. We spend 6 months or more at sea, and less than 2 months on land. We become strangers to our family and friends back home and all because of our dream, pursuit of better life and happiness. Many things can happen while you are away from home such as love affair, problems in the family, illness or death, the family asking for more money because we all know money is never enough. And you can’t do anything about it because you are in your other world thousands of miles away from it all. Plus you have your own ship problems such as bad roommate, horrible boss, workplace stress, cheating, weight gain/loss because of a poor quality food in crew mess, and the list goes on.

All that pressure and stress from both worlds can throw a crewmember’s mental state off balance and cause them to behave irrationally. And this happens not only to the newcomers but also to old timer’s. 

The former crew member  Nilesh Gaonkar, in the article “Life on board is not easy” wrote “I myself used to always think life onboard would be easy when I used to see the family of my friends spending the same hard earned money like water. So I taught I would also work onboard and earn for my family, but when I went I realized how tough the life was when I went to do my rounds especially in the galley, housekeeping, laundry, garbage etc... I could see the crew struggling so hard. I realized the hard life when I saw it myself and always wanted to tell this to everyone. But now after the suicide of one of the crew member onboard, I felt I should post this. Please avoid giving stress to your loved ones.

There are no psychologists on board cruise ships

Yes, Stress, Pressure and long working hours are the biggest challenges crew members face every day while on board. You don’t know what stress is until you worked on a cruise ship. The other interesting fact is that there are no psychologists on board. This is a critical issue because psychologist who’s sole purpose onboard will be caring for the mental states of all crew members onboard, can help them overcome challenges and even prevent suicide.

“As a former crewmember that has worked for several cruise lines, I can relate to the constant high-stress situations that crewmembers must endure on a daily basis. There are so many foreseeable challenges that crewmembers must face when starting a life at sea on the other side of the planet, but there are also some unforeseen ones that can really disrupt what could’ve been a great contract… Simply put, a psychologist is necessary. Now many cruise lines will tell you that they have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) in place where a crew member can speak to a psychologist over the phone, but I’m of the belief that nothing beats a real life person within proximity to talk to.” Wrote Sean Sassoon, former Manager of Training for Maritime Operations at Carnival Cruise Line and Sr. Learning & Development Specialist - Fleet Trainer Supervisor at Princess Cruises.

All we have is each other

So with this being said all we have for support is each other. Our ship friends colleagues, roommates are our new family in this big can of steel. Be nice to each other, support one another, and surround yourself with good people because they can help you and you can help them when the times get tough. I like to share with you a heart felling story written by the former crew member Victor Hugo Feliciano regarding his friend and ship colleague Natalia Molina who have jumped overboard from Norwegian Pearl in 2016:

  • “My phone rang at 5 am in the cabin! And a lot of messages start coming. I connect the internet and...
  • - Victor.
  • - jumped what?
  • - jumped off the ship.
  • Suicide!!!
  • Everyone who works on board knows many hours of work, bad food and little rest, somehow the body gets used to it. But then after a few good months on board comes the worst stage... the mental!!
  • I saw man crying, strong people break apart, I found a friend of mine once, 4 am in the hallway thinking was late on duty, makeup all undone and a leg with half pants only. I always supported everyone not giving up, I helped Ask sign off the other day, there was her limit!!
  • Many cruise lines treat this as an isolated case and we know that many crew die on board, and we know we don't have any psychological support! So when you are on board, always offer a word of support. On the ship as well as every place in the world, there are garbage people, but also a lot of good people, who care! Join these people!
  • Natalia was one of the people who most helped me at my beginnings in NCL, and when she needed my help I wasn't there! But I don't want any more Natalia's to happen”

How to overcome depression on cruise ship?

Get out of your cabin! As you are tired, understand that your body will adapt. Your legs will hurt, but you need to socialize with your new friends and neighbors. Visit the crew bar go to open deck with your friends. Do not close your world. Remember that you are stronger than you think.

Surround yourself with friends and NEVER isolate yourself into your cabin. On the ship like on land, there are nice people who like to meet you and make friends. Understand those people, even though they are of different nationalities, or rank have same afflictions, inquiries, and are going through the same emotions as you. 

I feel depressed. Find strength in you through your personal goals you set up before you boarded the cruise ship. Think about the achievements, think of the pride you feel after overcoming these difficulties, think about the stories you will tell your children and grandchildren about your adventures around the world. Consider how life is short and you are the one who has the courage to dare new experiences.