Mental Health and misdiagnosis for Seafarers

The topic of “mental health” is currently on everyone’s lips… and this is with very good reason. This topic, which has received little attention for a long time, has now gained a lot more attention more recently, especially since the Corona pandemic and its effects on ships crew, changes in crewing as well as contract durations and conditions.

However a recent experience nevertheless leads us to put a question mark here – as not every mental health issue is a mental health issue.

„For weeks now, a 60-year-old woman in our circle of acquaintances has been feeling bad and it was getting worse – she was sad, tired, lacked drive. This was so very different from how everyone knows her. So the family decided it must be a mental issue such as depression and sent her to a psychologist, then to a psychiatrist. She was first treated with an antidepressant. No effect. The moodiness remained. She didn’t like to get out of bed or even leave the house. The daughter became seriously worried and one evening took her to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. The diagnostics, including laboratory tests, revealed a massive under-activity of the thyroid gland.“

Please do not misunderstand: the entire working conditions of seafarers – from the spatial and temporal distance to family and friends to the shifts and the constant presence of noise and vibration  can actually lead to mental impairments and these must be detected and dealt with wherever possible early on.

However, it must not be overlooked that many health problems can first present themselves at what appears to be symptoms of mental abnormalities.

Indeed there are many physical conditions that can manifest themselves as a potential mental issue. These include:

 – Infections (Sepsis)

  • Hormonal deviations (e.g. Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism) 
  • Circulatory disorders
  • Metabolic derailments (blood sugar!)
  • and many others.

So what conclusions can we draw from that. Well, never ignore any unusual condition of one of your crew. If a crew member seems to have a mood problem, feels sad, excessively fatigued or unmotivated, don’t jump straight to the conclusion that it is a mental health issue.

This means in order to actually take care of any apparent “mental health issues” you must therefore always include a detailed medical evaluation. 

How does your team deal with mental health problems? Do you have a solid procedure in place? 

Please post in the comments.

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