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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about Maine's fishing industry, read stories about Maine fishermen, find yummy recipes, and learn ways to support fishing communities.
Donate to our programs that support Maine fishermen. If you want to support the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program, you can do so HERE. If you would like to donate to the Safety at Sea program we are building, you can do so by visiting our donation page and entering "Safety" in the notes section. (The Safety at Sea programs offers safety equipment to fishermen and includes mental health advocacy.)
Join our Community Insights Committee. In our ongoing effort to be inclusive and to ensure we are aware of the diverse needs, issues, and ideas coming out of Maine's working waterfronts, MCFA is looking to populate a Community Insights (CI) committee of fishermen and community members to help provide perspective into what is being experienced throughout our coast.
Eat Maine seafood! And when you do, please post about it, tag us, and use the hashtag #EatMaineSeafood.
MCFA staff is not unfamiliar with mental health and well-being. We are a small staff and we all have our own techniques for maintaining a work-life balance. We put family first, take days off to prevent burnout, find passion in our work, and express compliments and concern when necessary. But even when we acknowledge the importance of mental health and encourage each other to take care of ourselves in order to do our best work, sometimes the nature of our work is discouraging, disappointing, and disheartening.
The fishing industry is volatile.
For most fishermen the act of fishing itself, of getting on the boat and heading out to sea, is a relief from stresses on land; it's a respite, passion, and calling. It's the constant changes, an uncertain future, shifting markets, cost-of-doing business, and modern nuances that are anxiety-inducing.
Together, we persevere.