Dominique Jégaden and David Lucas are doctors specializing in maritime occupational medicine and seafarers, teachers in the university degree in maritime medicine at UBO. They sign with three colleagues a reference work on the mental health of seafarers. Interview.
Who are these monographs aimed at, which compile different aspects of the mental health of seafarers?
Dominique Jégaden: “To the doctors and health personnel who are responsible for seafarers (general practitioners and specialists, occupational doctors for shipping companies, doctors for seafarers), nurses working in the same departments, but also psychologists, professionals who gravitate around the maritime professions, shipowners and captains, HRDs of shipping companies, as well as the sailors themselves. This is the first French compilation on this theme of mental health concerning this specific environment. Apart from a few articles here and there, there was not a set of texts grouped in this way”.
Who are the contributors to this book directed by the French Society of Maritime Medicine?
David Lucas: “Doctors specializing in maritime occupational medicine and seafarers, teachers in the university degree in maritime medicine at UBO (Dominique Jégaden and David Lucas), psychologist (Camille Jégo), psychiatrist (Patrick Delbrouck ) and nurse (Agnès Bihouix). These last three authors are members of the new resource center on the psychotrauma of seafarers (CRAPEM), listening 24 hours a day to seafarers in psychological distress”.
How has the covid crisis complicated the lives of sailors?
“On a significant number of factors. At the start of the illness, there was concern for the sailors who left their families at the start of the pandemic and for those who saw their sailor leaving for the unknown. Then, the conditions of sanitary measures on board complicated the reports. Finally, the implementation of fortnights, the considerable lengthening of boarding times, the lack of visibility on the dates of return to shore and the constrained stopover rules have profoundly modified the working environment”.
Why have the stopover conditions profoundly changed the working environment?
“In the merchant navy, stopovers are most often reduced to loading and unloading times, ie they only last a few hours and allow less and less of an effective stay in the countries visited. Dreams of discovery and change of scenery, praised over time, are reduced to the bare minimum. Covid has only made the situation worse, confining sailors on board for a long time and adding, in some countries, sometimes excessive constraints. As in China, for example: some commercial sailors who stop there told us that they no longer had the right to go out on the deck of their boat, confined inside, even in the port. Even the hawsers that they had been able to manipulate and were subjected to massive disinfection! »
More and more sailors refer to their ship as a “prison”
” That’s a fact. While merchant navy ships were synonymous with escape and freedom, they are seen as places of confinement. Embarked for longer periods, unable to get out of this “prison” ship, the sailors suffered on board. Some are seriously wondering about their professional future and some shipping lines are having difficulty recruiting. Did they make the right choice if the confinement conditions persist? »
Are the tablets and laptops used by sailors in their bunks damaging the atmosphere and living together on board?
“In the past, the crew members shared daily moments of conviviality, a card game, a film or a football match, together. Today, the drastic reduction of the crews, the frequently multi-ethnic nature of these means that this conviviality has been greatly reduced on board. Sailors tend to close in on themselves in their cabin, sometimes using the IT resources at their disposal to excess (films, games, etc.) and alone! »
And the possible connection with the outside?
“More and more boats are offering internet connection to sailors. This in itself is a considerable step forward. But, on some boats, the internet connection is paying and very expensive, therefore reserved for those who can afford it. When this connection is possible, it allows a constant, or at least very frequent link with those who remain on land, which clearly modifies the isolation of the sailors. But this does not always have only advantages. Deleterious effects can arise, since one remains connected to the earth and to the problems of the daily life of the house. In the past, a sailor cut all ties with the family completely and remained perfectly dedicated to his mission. Free and focused mind. This new possible and sometimes permanent link with the family profoundly changes the atmosphere, the work environment and its requirements and can be a source of stress”.
It’s not just in commerce that sailors have the blues…
“Indeed in fishing, the difficulties are felt since the significant increase in the price of diesel. Profitability has always been a subject in fishing, but today it is becoming crucial, with work rates and hours that are not getting any easier. The tendency to reduce the number of sailors on board is observed on the most modern units, which are increasingly automated, but with increasingly powerful tools. And fewer hands on a boat means more work and more versatility required. Versatility causes stress and a feeling of not doing your job well. Let’s not forget either that fishing remains one of the most dangerous professions, which implies the existence of particular psychological profiles in this profession, which allow it to be exercised despite the inherent dangers”.
To keep up with this pace of fishing, do we still resort to products that lead to excesses and addictions?
“Although alcohol seems to be less present on board fishing vessels, narcotics are still too present and can cause short (safety) and long-term (mental health) difficulties. But our data is patchy and quite old.
Does the French Navy escape the phenomenon of stress and additional pressure?
“Probably not, with significantly reduced crews, which leads to more versatility. Increasingly sophisticated and technically demanding systems require specific training time, in addition to a certain versatility in several areas of intervention. While on an old-style frigate, we were dedicated to one, or even two responsibilities, today, on a multi-mission frigate, sailors must be able to master several areas of intervention at the same time, in the same daytime. This increases the mental load and the intensity in the work”.
The burn-out of the sailor is therefore not a figment of the mind…
“In France, no study has been done on the subject of burnout and this subject has only been addressed in very few international studies. But the frequent stressful situations on board can, of course, lead to burnout. In a boat, as in a business, objectives and the pressure of results can lead to difficult situations. It is also observed that it is the officers who are subjected to the greatest stress and the greatest pressure on board ships. Exactly like for executives in the corporate world”.
– The mental health of seafarers, from the French Society of Maritime Medicine is available in bookstores, on order. 25 euros, www.bod.fr
letelegramme Fr Trans