Mental Health Offshore

Hello,

I find myself feeling depressed when I have to come back to work. I know you all feel the same sort of thing but I guess I’m looking for advice on making the job more bearable. Or maybe even enjoyable.

A few days before crew change I turn into a hermit. Can’t believe my time off is over. Find it difficult to be sociable and upbeat with my friends and family. I tell them it feels sort of like when summer break was ending when you were a kid. They seem to understand.

When I get to the boat it’s always a struggle to try and get along and make good impressions on new people. I am in the engine room. I find it strange, I always get along really really well with the wheelhouse and deck crews for the most part, the engine crew always seems to kinda have tension, maybe it’s just seeing too much of eachother. Often people that are over you seem to be depressed and disgruntled with the job and their own lives. It is a misery spiral.

I always start the hitch with high Hope’s, I’m gonna eat right, and work out at least every other day etc. I am gonna really focus on making good impressions and doing my best. After a week that plan is gone. All willpower has been spent on other daily worries, and you feel like your best just isn’t enough.

I really do try and get along with everyone. I always say that I would rather be on a rusty pile of falling apart crap with a good group of guys, than a perfect boat with a bunch of dicks. But it seems like a good crew is hard to find, and if you get one the office will be sure to tear it apart soon enough.

I think for me the biggest issue is working with people that seem to dislike me right off the bat, and the feeling that I am spinning my wheels and there is no point to it.

Pretty bleak outlook I guess. But I do head back tomorrow so I guess that makes sense.

I would like some advice and ideas about what to do to change my thoughts and emotions surrounding these things. Maybe have a broader conversation about mental health in the offshore industry.

Thanks guys,

Ps. Do me a favor yeah? The guy you dislike the most on the boat. Next time you see him try and be nice? Think about what his day is actually like. Think about how he views himself in relation to the job. Think about all the issues and worries he might have at home. Has he been doing good work? Let him know. Did he make a mistake? Take it easy on him. There is enough trouble out here without making your own.

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Time to jump ship. None of us are THRILLED to head back to work, but what you describe sounds like entering a black hole. They exist in the industry and they are best viewed in your rear view mirror.

You will not be totally happy onboard a ship, but you can get pretty damn close. It’s a job and that alone sucks. If you’re having the thoughts you are describing, find a new home and chances are fairly good you will be happier.

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Aint that the fucking truth.

I think your best bet is to give up. I don’t mean stop doing your job, I mean stop trying to improve others. You can try and carry the rest of the crew with your hard work. It’s probably not realistic.

I quit a job where one of my assistants couldn’t do his job. Way better than the previous trip where I tried my best to cover for a shithead.

Just leave, It won’t matter in the long run. Find somewhere that doesn’t suck as bad.

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The first 2 guys who replied to you are 100% correct. If you gave it a try for 3 or 4 hitches & you feel the same then it probably isn’t going to get any better. Some crews are unintentionally clique’ish based on age, where they’re from or level of education/work ethic etc… Some people are just sociopathic assholes. Stay professional, realize it’s just a small portion of your career that you’ll be working with them & look for greener pastures as fast as you professionally can. Don’t lose your cool, blow up or give up because some assholes get off on breaking people down & you might be giving an asshole satisfaction by doing so. Keep working hard & professionally until your last day & you win. Good luck.

Even in the rare cases where you find a vessel with a great crew, there will be some friction and drama occasionally.

Its damn near impossible to find a vessel where there isn’t that one person that gets on your nerves. Being stuck out here, its easy to get annoyed the longer the hitch goes and the fatigue that goes with the job doesn’t help.

Like you pointed out, no one is really estatic going back to work. Its especially hard when you have a family. Since no one else has said it I will.
Are you sure this is the right career for you?

Not sure how long your hitches are or where you are sailing exactly, but personally working an even time rotation helps my mental health.

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Like DamnYankee says 'It’s a job and that alone sucks". Don’t blame the job and your co-workers. Find out what’s bothering you personally. You sound as if you see yourself as a victim and even if you switched careers, you’d be dissatisfied in any work environment.

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That’s exactly my situation before going back, but once I’m back on the boat I’m fine.

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If the engineers don’t have a good camaraderie it’s a hard place to be. The engine room is a big playground with the right crew and an overwhelming dungeon with the wrong ones. I never liked short hitches, if you’re working that way. I switched to deep sea and don’t feel like I’m always coming and going anymore. Definitely make sure you’re even time if you can at the very least.

Dude, myself and a lot of others feel exactly the way you do. You are not alone.

The office will try to break up a good crew. It’s not really an active policy, it’s just apathy, indifferent ignorance, and incompetence on their part. It does seem like they are out to get us but they are not really. Once I really grasped that it took the edge off my paranoia and made things a little better for me.

You are not completely powerless in this situation. The best part about our career is that if you don’t like the situation you are in you can always pack your sea bag and skedaddle.

If it gives you any encouragement, good crews really do exist and it is possible to keep them together. I’m fortunate to be currently sailing with the best crew I’ve ever had in 13 years at sea. Our core crew has been together for three years and we’ve managed this feat by being the top performers in our fleet and by being vocally resistant to change in our line up.

It may not last forever, it hasn’t made us many friends in the office, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that we are the safest and hardest workers out there. We all have pride in our vessel and pride in our jobs. It’s great.

(To be honest, things are a bit crappy for me on land right now and I almost look forward to going to work.)

I guess long story short, just hang in there. Try to be the best engineer you can possibly be and try to be a good shipmate. Taking pride in your surroundings can be contagious sometimes. If you find that isn’t working, find a new boat and roll the dice again. Repeat as required. Sooner or later things can’t help but change for the better.

Good luck, Bud.

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I think we all struggle a bit when leaving the family for months at a time , but you should find some happiness at work. I am in the process of making a work change myself. I think from your description you really only have 2 options. 1 - Change vessels or companies OR 2 - change careers. Life is too short to be that unhappy/ depressed at work.
With regard to the office ‘breaking up’ a good crew , from the Bridge side I always looked at this as the office sees a good group of guys on one vessel … good clean operators and a not - so - good group on another vessel. Seems the office wants to sprinkle some of your magic onto a bad situation and hope that these guys will bring with them all of the positive energy that they had on your vessel. Sometimes it works and sometimes you end up with 2 bad situations.
I think if you start believing the office is out to get you , you will likely never be happy. IMHO

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Get you a bat shit crazy wife and a few whiny little girls and you’ll be ready to go back to work!!

Just kidding dude! I’ve had jobs in the past where I would really hesitate going back, to the point where I would damn near want to call the company and quit a few days before my return to work. A simple change in company or even boat may solve your issue. I’m now at a place where I can honesty say I love my job, and all it took was a new company.

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Find a therapist next time you are home. There are lots of fantastic mental health professionals out there. If you live in a coastal community with lots of commercial fishing or maritime jobs, there is probably someone who specializes in this field. Your union or company insurance will probably cover the visits too.

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Good mental health should be paramount for everyone. There should be no stigma associated - whatsoever - with visiting a mental health professional or receiving the necessary treatment or prescription.

I’ve always been told the Coast Guard is a little more hard-nosed about that.

Which explains my long-standing relationships with Drs. Turkey, Walker, and Weiser.

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Before forking over cash to a therapist, getting on crazy pills or self medicating with Crown Royal I highly recommend reading Stephen Covey’s book, “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”. In it Covey talks about different personality types & how reactive personalities can’t be happy without outside factors influencing them to be happy. If a reactive personality is surrounded by positive influences, then they’re happy. When surrounded by negative influences then they’re sad or angry. That book really opened by eyes to what made people tick. Of course the book encourages you & gives tips in not being a reactive person. But no matter how much inner strength you have, working & living with people who you don’t like or don’t like you will take it’s toll on your mental health. If you gave it a try for 3 or 4 hitches & it hasn’t worked out its probably not going to get any better. Read the book & find another vessel.

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Engineer87,
I’ve read your post several times. I’ve read similar reports from other mariners, and heard stories like yours from coworkers and family members my entire life.The details in your report are perfectly familiar to me. Take some comfort in that–what you’re going through is common.

It’s called clinical depression.

Mental illness is like physical illness. It is a disorder of an organ, in this case the brain, which with medical care can be made right, or at least controlled.

Most clinical depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Depression is an emotion but all emotions are, at their most basic level, simply manifestations of chemicals released by certain parts of the brain at certain times. Valve on, valve off. There are external triggers for the release of the chemicals–interactions with people and situations–but it is the release of the chemical which causes the reaction you experience as depression.

In a well-tuned mind, the release of the chemical which causes depression is balanced by the release of other chemicals which subsequently brighten your mood. The trouble is, your mind is out of tune. You have a “leaky valve” dripping the chemical of depression all the time. Your mental energies are spent dealing with the consequences of the depression, skewing your perceptions of others. Everyone around you is an a$$hole and an irritant because the depression leaves you no energy to mediate with them normally.

You cannot lift yourself out of your depression, no more than a diabetic can lift themselves out of a lack of insulin.That is the important thing to remember: your problem is most likely a slight chemical imbalance, no more your fault than diabetes is a diabetic’s fault. The only difference is that diabetics are not stigmatized for their inability to produce insulin, but depressives are stigmatized for their brains’ inability to perfectly orchestrate the incredibly complex suite of chemicals needed to shuttle between emotional states.

The good news is that in the 21st century millions of normal people handle this problem with a a trip to a competent doctor and a little study of the problem. A competent doctor may start you off with a miracle drug like flouxetine, which for the majority of patients has no discernible mental effects, except that you notice that everyone around you seems to be better behaved than they were before.

But ignoring the problem, or trying to deal with it solely with diet and exercise (which do help somewhat), is likely not going to solve the problem entirely. Just as diet and exercise do help with diabetes, but many people find that they still need medical intervention.

Here is the biggest problem: you have to overcome the stigma of mental illness, which is tremendous even in an enlightened country like the USA. The idea that people are either “sane” or “crazy” is ridiculous. For many people, another person going through “depression” is “mental”. But when YOU go through a low period it’s just “stuff I’m working out”. For some reason, none of us wants to admit that our brains are as fallible and delicate as our hearts, or lungs, or livers.

You have to realize that the brain is just an organ, like a pancreas, and that it goes out of tune, especially as we age. You have to find the courage to convince yourself that you are not a lesser man because you look your problem straight in the eye and decide you’re going to a professional to fix it. Millions have done it. They’re all around you. You’re not alone. You’ll find the first step a mile long but afterwards you’ll wonder why you waited so long to take it.

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Even if you’re a doctor I wouldn’t be diagnosing people on a forum.

I totally understand OP’s sentiments, people are difficult to work with sometimes. And when you eat, drink, and practically sleep with your coworkers it can really put some of us on edge. I personally find it difficult to deal with that one guy who is always talking about his grand escapades off the boat. How many women he’s been with, how drunk he got, how many fish he’s caught etc. Every crew seems to have one.

As other have suggested I think some counseling could help. Even just to assure yourself you’re not insane for doing this job, that it’s worth it to be in this industry.

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What do you mean you heard similar stories from “other” mariners? It is safe to say you would hear similar stories from almost ALL mariners about one point or more in their careers if they were honest when talking about it. It’s the same for almost ALL soldiers, sailors, airmen, flight attendants, truckers, migrant workers etc. I’ve read alot of biographies & historical books & most mariners, soldiers etc. from decades & centuries ago experienced the same thing at one in their lives/careers. Do you think everyone has these faulty valves & should be on the pills you are pushing? Get real. IMO, people don’t search out professional mental health when they need it because of people with quack point of views like yours. Sure, there’s a possibility that the OP might be clinically depressed. But since almost every mariner, soldier etc. who has been in similar hostile environments experienced the same dilemma & improved their mental health by changing their environment, I would be more inclined to go that route instead going the insane route with Dr. Feelgood’ prescription cure. The OP’s problem is a common one for those who work in this industry long enough.

Two other points. 1. Since the OP is aware & articulate enough to express his feelings & ask for help I would suspect some of his asshole coworkers are the ones with the faulty brain valves & he’s probably just normal. 2. Once you put a check on your USCG physical you carry that scarlet letter around for the rest of your life. For me, getting on pills would be my last resort. Doing what every other mariner has done by switching ships/companies & doing some self evaluation would be my first options.

Again, read Steven Covey’s book & switch ships.

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Fear of being prescribed medication is not a reason to avoid a therapist. A therapist is not going to force you to go on meds. Many people attend therapy on a regular basis and never go on pills.

I agree that the OP’s statements describe a fairly common situation for those that go to sea.

In his post it appears he is asking for help. So telling him he should see a professional is pretty sound advice. Unless you have spent time with someone that suffers from depression, it is very difficult to understand how debilitating it can be for them.

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E87 - Welcome to Gcap and congrats on your first post.
Having had a couple people close to me that suffered from Depression I have spent a fair amount of time trying to understand this disease / affliction. With the cases I have seen first hand the person(s) would not, could not, did not know nor admit to knowing that they were depressed. I think the fact that E87 recognizes there is a problem speaks volumes about his situation.
It certain would not hurt to see a therapist. However, I personally would not sign on to ANY meds unless you and your Dr felt it absolutely necessary. This business is very unforgiving in that regard.
Hell… read a good self help book. There are dozens, one previously mentioned is an excellent book.
Good Luck !

Come on people, quit trying to sound PC with the, “Go see a therapist” crap as a first, viable option.

Be honest with the answer to the following question. Imagine the very real scenario of talking on the phone with a good, long time friend who used to be a co-worker from 5, 10, 20 years ago. Your old buddy tells you he has recently been transferred to a new ship. Everyone in the ER is an ass to him & he has been giving it his best for the last 6 months. He’s down in the dumps over it, dreads going back, isn’t sure what to do & asks for your opinion. Are you going to tell him to “Go see a therapist” or “Get on some pills”? Hell no your not!!! Your going to tell your buddy a sea story about when you were in the same situation & you shit in the ECR coffee pot, quit & found a better job closer to home with shorter rotations. Of the hundreds, prehaps thousand+ people that I worked with over the years I don’t recall a single person ever going to see a therapist over working with a bunch of assholes. I have work with guys who seen therapists & took meds but that was over stuff at the house, not because of assholes at work. More or less I have been on both sides of the imaginary phone conversation mentioned above & no one every recommended going to a head doc for stuff that happens every day in our industry. I don’t know why you people would pull out the b.s Dr. Phil tv advice for some stranger on the internet when you haven’t & wouldn’t recommend it to someone you have worked with before.

***This comment isn’t directed to, freighterman1, something tells me you recommend people to see a therapist & to get on meds all the time.

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