Maine Voices: We need more awareness of mental health stresses on Maine’s fishermen

Both farmers and fishermen rely on the weather to determine their schedules. One prays for rain and the other for clear skies and calm seas. They both get up before the cock crows and go to bed and think about another whole day of work ahead. They have similar interests: regulations, development, finance, work and their families.

Other similarities that can be drawn include the generational nature of the work; Inherent family and community culture, legacies of land, boats or buoys. Both industries are grappling with climate change: farmers are the guardians of the earth; Fishermen and sea agents.

Agriculture and fishing are two industries that have historically consisted of men, and in the past decade, the average lifespan for both has risen (about 57). While there has been increasing interest in the mental health effects and suicide risk factors of farmers, little research is focused on specific mental health challenges for fishermen. Because of similarities in work factors and demographics, research on suicide risks for farmers may direct the risks to hunters.

In the agriculture industry, men account for 95.9 percent of deaths from suicide, with an average age of 57 at the time of death. Caucasian males account for 97.3 percent of these deaths. Risk factors include health problems, injury, disability, loss of relationships, grief, lack of time for family life, economic hardship, and loss of land. When examining these risk factors, similar challenges can be observed in fishing communities: long hours, unpredictable schedules based on the weather, loss of waterfront business property and community homes, loss of fishing grounds and regulations affecting economic viability.

“The factors that contribute to suicide in the farm community are complex and compounded,” says Julie Sorenson, director of the Northeast Center for Occupational Safety and Health. “Based on two decades of interactions with farmers, I would say it is a combination of ever-increasing isolation due to the loss of farms, the loss of farming as a way of life and cultural identity, and persistent fears of losing the farm due to economic and organizational pressures. Many farmers fear that they are the ones who lost the farm after generations of their ancestors. who worked hard to build a business and get the land.”

Offshore wind development, major gear changes, closures leading to loss of fishing grounds, waterfront development and intertidal conflict are all factors that can put fishermen out of business. The health and well-being of Maine’s fishermen is often an afterthought in fisheries management decisions. Unfortunately, these decisions and economic factors are affecting current and future opportunities, changing the traditional landscape of Maine’s coast and threatening the viability of the fishing industry.

Without the ability to hunt, hunters feel insignificant and detached, just like farmers who cannot continue farming.

Of greatest concern is negative thinking about suicide, when a person has a reduced desire to live and, accordingly, increases the likelihood of engaging in activities that make life-threatening decisions (for example, fishing in bad weather). Depression, loneliness, rejection, and despair are factors that lead to suicidal ideation.

Fishermen live with passive acceptance and think about their deaths daily, because fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2017, the mortality rate for fishermen was 114 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers, compared to four deaths per 100,000 full-time workers among all workers in the United States.

Changes in the industry, whether it be cordless equipment or the industrial development of the Gulf of Maine, cannot continue in silo while ignoring the threat to the welfare of fishermen.

It is imperative that policymakers involve fishers in decisions that affect them, invest in programs that support fishers’ ability to continue working in the ocean and create opportunities for fishers to access mental health support and wellness resources for their industry. While stress in agriculture is a very familiar topic, it is time for the general public to be aware of the stress and threats to our commercial fishermen.


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