Mental Health: Defining the Problem for Crew

26 March 2019 By Laura Dunn

After five days of working 18-hour days in a row (and not sleeping during that time), a yacht chef — we’ll call him Keith — had a complete manic episode. During his breakdown, he purchased $12,000 worth of food for a four-day trip in the Caribbean and also stole his fellow crewmembers’ belongings and buried them on the island. He also buried his own things, which were stuffed full of weed and all sorts of other accoutrements. After being fired for this offense, he decided to exact his revenge by stalking the captain and contacting everyone possible to smear her name. From there, he proceeded to send daily death threats to the captain and other crewmembers because Keith deemed them responsible for his termination.

One of Keith’s crewmembers, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the chef had previously been seen in a fairly positive light: he was a great chef who worked very hard, but mostly kept to himself. Subsequently, after doing some research about the fired chef, the captain found out that Keith has a history with drugs — but it never came up in his references despite the fact that his past co-workers all said he was “*&%ing crazy.”

Tragic mental health outcomes have been trending in the news. According to CNN, Sydney Aiello — a former student of South Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where 17 were killed in a mass school shooting on February 14, 2018 — committed suicide on March 17. Aiello’s mother says her daughter suffered from survivor’s guilt and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A week later, on March 23, CNN also reported that a second survivor died by apparent suicide — the investigation is ongoing and the former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High student was unnamed.

In yet another tragic CNN headline, Jeremy Richman was found dead in his office building on March 25 as a result of an apparent suicide. He was the father of six-year-old Avielle Richman, one of the 20 kids and six adults killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2018 that an estimated 50 percent of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point. According to the CDC, depression is the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for individuals aged 18 to 44. Furthermore, adults living with serious mental illness die about 25 years earlier than others.

While mental health is becoming less taboo, there’s still too much stigma surrounding it, particularly in yachting. MedAire, which has been delivering remote medical, security, and operational support in yachting for more than 30 years, recently launched a mental health service.

One of the people on the front line for MedAire is Victoria Carnivale, MBA, business development and sales manager, Luxury Yachting, Americas and the Caribbean. As a former beauty queen, Carnivale was on the board of the Florida division of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “So when I came to yachting, I realized that raising awareness in our industry draws on that experience. And I find it fascinating that no matter what amount of luxury, whether it’s high-end surroundings, …a wonderful yacht, food delicacies on board; everything at your fingertips: owners, guests, captains, crew, yacht managers…none are immune to the stress that exists in our industry.”

“There is no sector or person that is immune, and it is now in epidemic proportion, based on the CDC and WHO declarations,” says Robert L. Quigley, MD, D.Phil, senior vice president and regional medical director assistance for MedAire & International SOS Americas. Quigley has spent the last three years committed to addressing mental illness and wellness. “And if I do nothing else in my lifetime but help destigmatize mental illness, I’ve been a very successful human being,” Quigley says. “There’s still a lot of stigma associated with that, and I’m trying to get that to go away by speaking all over the world to a variety of different organizations.”

What is Mental Illness?
If your thoughts and your actions are interfering with your function of daily living, then you’re mentally ill. This is the simple definition, according to Dr. Quigley, who said we all have weird thoughts and actions but it’s only when they start affecting daily function that it becomes a mental illness.

Quigley calls it a lifelong condition “and it’s one that you need to take some ownership on, you need to control, but you need some help at the outset with a professional — a health care professional of some sort.” This might include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. “But you need to understand that that’s a part of you now, you’re going to own it, and you’re going to move forward, and you’re going to practice your life so that you have mitigation strategies so that it doesn’t reoccur.” He urges people to get help before you’re at the end stage of depression or anxiety. Your mental health illness shouldn’t be a big secret.

Carnivale says alcohol, isolation, and break ups are big culprits of mental illness. However, she maintains that we all have a mental illness since we’re human. “Can you think back in times in your life when you had more difficulty coping than other times? Well, that’s emotional and mental stress,” she says. “Everything works together inside of us and so we have to make sure we take care of our mental and emotional health just the way we take care of our physical health. We can’t separate them.” She adds that when she’s been through tough situations that she didn’t know how to handle, she went for help. “Sometimes you just want to talk to a professional who is paid to keep your secrets anonymously.”

Karine Rayson, director at The Crew Coach, says mental health issues don’t exist in isolation but that they are apparent across all industries. “Psychological safety is as paramount as physical safety,” she says. “Sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and bullying can trigger or exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions. If we do not provide awareness through psycho-education as part of the mandatory training for crew, as well as offer support for the victims, we are then failing as a seven-star industry.”

For more related content:

Mental Health: Skills to Cope

Crew Concerns: Crew Welfare on Board

Sexual Harassment in Yachting: Advice and Change Needed