Mental health is rarely discussed in yachting, although crewmates can be the best defense when stress begins to take its toll.
In the yachting industry, mental health is rarely discussed. Instead, it has become somewhat of a taboo topic, in part because we aren’t aware of its true significance. The signs of mental health difficulties start off quite insignificantly, with subtle changes to the nervous system and brain functions that later lead to distinctive changes in behavior and mood.
These changes can include low energy and work ethic, heightened sensitivity to conflict, mood swings and agitation, and self-isolation.
Continuous exposure to a high-stress environment (i.e. working on superyachts) strains our stress receptors, which then release lots of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. When our bodies are exposed to consistently high levels of these stress hormones, our digestion and gut health suffers, we become fatigued, experience memory loss, and have trouble sleeping. Ultimately, this can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Studies have shown that when we are exposed to chronic stress it can actually alter the size of the brain by shrinking the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for regulating memory and decision making, while increasing the size of the amygdala, which makes the brain more receptive to stress. What’s more, these effects can last years after the stressful situation has passed. That fact alone makes it definitely a cause for discussion!
But where do we even begin? In a recent survey I conducted among yacht crew, the majority expressed that yachting had impacted their mental health in a negative way. More than half said they had sought help from therapists, psychologists, or life coaches.
In my eight years of being in the industry, I have seen (and felt) firsthand the effects on one’s physical health and mental state. With long hours and little or no time off, high standards, crazy turnarounds, high-maintenance guests, tight quarters and the inevitable conflicts that ensue, it’s no wonder crew members struggle with the fallout.
Crew dynamics play a major role in successfully addressing these issues. Being part of a team that prioritizes mental health and safety is crucial, but that has become a luxury not afforded to all crew on board yachts. If you have — or are lucky enough to have had — a healthy work environment, you know what an integral part it plays in a stable and thriving mindset.
With such strict rules being enforced on our hygiene, appearance, cleanliness and work ethic, it’s hard to believe the same stringency isn’t executed with regard to our mental health. It is imperative that we open the discussion around mental health and the standards that are set in our working environments by department heads and fellow crew.
Communicating respectfully with crewmates, speaking up for each other, motivating one another to choose better ways to spend time off, and voicing serious concerns are all ways we can slowly start working towards a change for the better. And starting the conversation is just the beginning — cultivating an industry-wide standard of resources that crew members know they can turn to when they are in need of mental health assistance is the ultimate goal.
RACHÉ GREEF HAILS FROM SOUTH AFRICA AND HAS BEEN IN YACHTING FOR EIGHT YEARS. AS A CERTIFIED LIFE COACH, SHE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT ADDRESSING THE MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES OF THE INDUSTRY. SHE CAN BE CONTACTED HERE.