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Fishermen Wellness: How Families Cope

Hannah Longley, LCSW

NAMI Maine


Last week, Monique Coombs, MCFA staff, talked honestly and openly about the impact the fishing

industry can have on family members. Although I am not a family member of a fisherman, I have been

an adopted member of the Coombs clan for over 3 decades. I count this as a blessing because although

my life is not impacted by the unpredictability of fishing, it is from being a first responder family. My

best friend of 30 plus years (Melody, Monique's sister-in-law) lives with fishing impacts and we have counted ourselves lucky that although our spouses are in different lines of work, the same stressors plague us both. Unpredictability, last-minute scheduling changes, balancing the multiple stressors of work and family, safety concerns, etc. challenge us both differently and yet the same. It gives us an even more shared connection that few others can grasp.


Although there is no way to remove the stressors of life and the fishing industry, there are ways that can

help to alleviate some of the stress. The first I highlighted in the opening paragraph- the power of

connecting with someone who has a similar experience! There is power in honest, open, and non-

judgmental conversations with someone who has a shared experience. Anxiety and depression are normal experiences and the more we can share those with others, the easier it is to cope. If we do not speak to others about what is bothering us, the only voice we hear is our own, and it may not always be the most accurate. If you are supporting others who may be struggling, it is important to

listen and validate how they are feeling. You can not solve their problems, but you can sit and be

present. There is enormous power in allowing someone to feel heard, valued, and not alone.


The fishing industry is filled with situations and circumstances that there is no control over. This can

build a feeling of chaos, feelings of lack of control, leading to increased anxiety and depressive

symptoms. These feelings can increase anxiety and the negative impacts of stress. Although there is no

way to assert full control over the weather or climate change, the economy, the schedules, a pandemic,

there are still ways to regain a feeling of control. Finding ways to plan for the unexpected or worst-case scenarios are ways to take control over the uncertainty. Planning events for if the weather is perfect and you know your fisherman will be out on the water, as well as if they will be home. Planning for the disappointment and planning for the worst-case scenarios can provide a sense of control over the uncertainty. This can include having a backup plan for soccer practice if the weather is nice or they don’t make it off the water in time or even planning for if something happens on the water, knowing who will update you with any information. We do not always like to think about the scary moments, but if they were to occur, having a plan about who will take the children, let the dog out, etc. can provide a structure if chaos were to occur.


Practicing gratitude each day is also incredibly important. This allows for the refocusing of the brain and thoughts onto positive aspects of the life you have chosen. Although things are not perfect, there are can always be things to be thankful for. Take time to reflect on these, no matter how small or obscure they may seem. Brain scans have found that there are changes in the way the brain is processing

events and regulating emotions when this is practiced on a regular basis. This can also provide moments

of connection within the family as well. Moments to realize the blessings that the fishing life can bring to

each of you. The sunsets, the sounds and smells of the ocean, the freedom of the water, the culture and

history you are part of.


The fishing community, although spread out across the coast of Maine, is also a tightknit one. Watch out for each other’s mental health the same way you do for each other’s physical health. When one of you experiences an accident or illness, the community rallies together. If someone is struggling with stress, depression, or anxiety, rally together in the same way.


If you or someone you care about is struggling and it feels like more help is needed, reach out. NAMI Maine Helpline can assist with connecting individuals with volunteer clinicians to provide 15-30 minute free mental health check-ins. The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association also has financial assistance available for anyone who could benefit from counseling and has financial barriers. (More information on that coming soon!)


NAMI Maine Helpline 622-5767 ext 1


A note from MCFA staff: Fishermen Wellness is a new on-going series by NAMI Clinical Staff. Each week a new topic will be featured pertaining to mental health and wellness for fishermen. We hope that this information is helpful to fishermen during COVID-19 and also under regular circumstances. Thank you to the clinical staff at NAMI for their support and insight during this time. Together, we persevere.

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An industry-based nonprofit that identifies and fosters ways to restore the fisheries of the Gulf of Maine and sustain Maine's fishing communities for future generations. 

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