Why mental health matters to MCFA & Maine Fishermen
Unfortunately, talking about the importance of mental health support, resources, and funding for mental health research in the commercial fishing industry is just not... a thing. The Maine Coast Fishermen's Association wants to change this and not only destigmatize mental health and wellness conversations for fishermen but also advocate for funding, resources, and support services to be made available to fishermen and in working waterfront communities. This is important and necessary in Maine as well as other coastal states.
MCFA staff has known for a while that access to mental health support was and is a significant need in the fishing industry. By its nature, fishing is an isolating, risky, uncertain, and volatile occupation. Many fishermen suffer from chronic pain, fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And as an industry that is predominantly male, it's important to note that depression and suicide are more common in men than women, and men are less likely to seek help.
From the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Suicide is 3.5x more likely among males than females; 78% of all suicides in Maine in 2014-2016 were among men.
In 2018, MCFA spent time in many of Maine's working waterfront communities while trying to get a better understanding of the needs of fishing communities. It resulted in a report, "The State of Maine's Working Waterfront", that you can read HERE. Conducting interviews with fishing community members and visiting some of the most beautiful places in Maine should have been incredibly pleasant and uplifting. And while meeting some of our coastal communities' finest was rewarding, too often MCFA staff was left a bit drained and overwhelmed after interviews and conversations pertaining to the future of the working waterfront.
Within every single interview with fishermen words like helpless, tired, unsure, give up, and uncertain were used to describe how they felt about both working waterfronts and the future of the industry. It seemed, and seems, as though many Maine fishermen are suffering from perpetual job insecurity, and research has shown a direct relationship between job insecurity and mental health impairment.
The concept of job insecurity was first defined in the eighties as “the perceived powerlessness to maintain desired continuity in a threatened job situation."
By contrast, the USDA offers numerous resources and makes funding available to rural communities to support mental health and substance abuse treatment; NOAA offers no resources or support to commercial fishermen. And, exacerbating the issue is the fact that the only mention of fishermen on the NOAA Sustainable Seafood Guide, Fishwatch.gov, is under the "enforcement" category; how disempowering, demotivating, and dehumanizing is that?
What is MCFA doing?
MCFA has received funding (and continues to seek out funding) to offer financial assistance to fishermen who are seeking support services either for mental health or substance abuse. If you are a fisherman or know a fisherman who could benefit from therapy, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a list of counselors with whom we are working. These counselors have immediate appointments available and an understanding of a fisherman's unpredictable schedule.
MCFA has been working with NAMI Maine to advocate and promote the well-being of fishermen. We have done this via a blog series, Fishermen Wellness. These blog posts offer information about topics such as grief and depression and include links for fishermen seeking more information or support.
We are working on projects that amplify the role of fishermen in the food system both to support fishermen's businesses as well as their well-being. Fishermen Feeding Mainers offers fishermen the opportunity to continue fishing during uncertain times, allows fishermen the opportunity to provide for their neighbors and communities, and most importantly, helps to humanize fishermen in an oft subverted industry.
What can you do?
You don't need to be a fisherman to be a part of our community. MCFA lives by our motto, "Together, we persevere." In order to restore the fisheries in the Gulf of Maine and sustain Maine's fishing communities for future generations, it will take all hands on deck.
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