Recognizing the Signs of Depression and Mental Distress

25 August 2009 By Janine Ketterer

Mental/emotional distress and depression can affect anyone, including crew living a so-called dream lifestyle. The recent incident on board a 150-foot motor yacht involving the suicide of a crewmember calls attention to the issue of crew mental health.

Living on board in tight quarters allows crew to get to know one another very well. In this family-like environment, crewmates can look out for each other. This includes watching for signs of mental/emotional distress, depression or suicide.

According to the World Health Organization (

- Depression is common, affecting about 121 million people worldwide.

- Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide.

- Depression can be reliably diagnosed and treated in primary care.

- Fewer than 25 percent of those affected have access to effective treatments.

- Depression occurs in persons of all genders, ages and backgrounds.

Samaritans, a UK organization providing confidential emotional support service for anyone in the UK and Ireland, lists these signs of depression or mental distress to watch for:

- Being irritable or nervous

- A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating less than normal

- Drinking, smoking or using drugs more than usual

- Being un-typically clumsy or accident prone

- Becoming withdrawn or losing touch with friends and family

- Losing interest in their appearance. For example: dressing badly, no longer wearing makeup, not washing regularly

- Making leading statements, such as, “You wouldn't believe what I've been through” or, “It’s like the whole world is against me.” People sometimes say these things in the hope someone will ask what they mean, so that they can talk about it.

- Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, for example: “Oh, no one loves me,” or “I'm a waste of space.”

Often individuals in mental distress use subtle nuances to indicate they need to talk about something rather than simply saying so. If ever in doubt, ask your fellow crewmember if something is wrong.

In the event that a crewmember confides in you thoughts of suicide, the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S. advises you to not leave that person alone.

Capt. Watson da Silva learned this lesson the hard way, as reported in the January 2007 issue of Dockwalk. A crewmember began showing signs of mental distress on his delivery to Florida from St. Maarten. Capt. da Silva and other crewmembers decided to keep an eye on him, but he managed to evade his crewmates and jump overboard. Fortunately, they were able to rescue him. Later, it was found out that he had confessed to a crewmate his lack of will to live. “We didn't take the mental illness seriously enough...I should have put him on twenty-four-hour watch sooner,” da Silva said.

In addition to not leaving someone alone, try to convince the person considering suicide to seek immediate medical assistance. Also be sure to remove from the person’s disposal anything that could be used to inflict self-injury. Most confessions of suicide are not bids for attention, but sincere and serious cries for help and they should be treated as such. Depression can be treated with counseling and medication.

Suicide Hotlines:


1 800 784 2433

1 800 273 8255


08457 90 90 90


13 11 14

International suicide hotlines: