Maine’s commercial fishermen are familiar with uncertainty and uncontrollable circumstances under normal conditions, but the level of ambiguity and the impact of the current pandemic have heightened worries and concern regarding their businesses and the future of their industry.
The collapse of the seafood industry throughout the United States and the world has affected Maine’s commercial fishing businesses, from the fishermen themselves to the bait, gear, fuel, and storage businesses who rely on them. Maine fishermen, like many small business owners in Maine, are worried about the potentially disastrous impacts of the pandemic to their livelihood and well-being. Coupled with the stress and volatility associated with managing a fishing business, this is putting excess pressure and worry on fishermen.
The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association began efforts to explore and identify mental health and wellness resources available to Maine’s commercial fishermen about a year ago, with the goal of producing printed and online materials that would be made easily available and accessible to fishermen seeking help, support, and information. The need for these efforts has been exacerbated due to the pandemic’s impact on Maine’s fishing businesses, families, and communities. MCFA has made it a priority to offer fishermen opportunities to seek help, to find resources to learn about managing stress and trauma, and to promote wellness.
MCFA sought help from the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Maine) following the death of their board chairman, Joe Nickerson, while at sea last January. NAMI Maine’s expertise and counsel guided MCFA staff through a tragic time. With issues such as unemployment, the inability to meet debt obligations and other expenses, and questions about their futures weighing heavy on the minds of most fishermen, NAMI Maine and MCFA are identifying topics together that are pertinent to fishermen right now and are exploring them in blog posts on the MCFA website. Resources and contact information for fishermen to receive services if needed accompany each article.
Alex Todd, a commercial fisherman from Chebeague Island and MCFA board member said, “It’s important to me and my friends and family who go fishing that there are resources available that can help us deal with some of the challenges we are facing. It’s really taking a toll on a lot of us. I think even just letting people know that some fishermen are pretty anxious and depressed right now is important.”
“Feeling a lack of control and uncertainty can make people feel like they are spiraling,” said Hannah Longley, LCSW, of NAMI Maine’s staff. “One in five Mainers seek treatment for anxiety or depression in a given year, and men are three times more likely to die by suicide. We encourage Mainers to look out for each other and to tackle the issues surrounding mental health and wellness, and that includes supporting Maine’s commercial fishermen.”
Since 1949, NAMI and other organizations have marked May as National Mental Health Month to raise awareness around the importance of mental health and well-being, and to alleviate the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment.