Many of us confuse the terms stress and trauma, but they are very different things although both can trigger depression in susceptible people.
Stress is something we all face and comes in many forms from work-related or financial stress, to social problems, or even new life changes. It can also vary in intensity, length, and type. In other words, stress is anything life brings our way that has the potential to upset our balance. Whilst stress is good for is, keeping us alert, motivated and primed to respond to danger, too much stress, or chronic stress, may lead to major depression in susceptible people. Even positive events, such as getting married or beginning a new job, can be stressful and may lead to an episode of major depression. Yet about 10% of people suffer from depression without the trigger of a stressful event.
Stress at Sea
Stress from work is far from being a modern day phenomenon and has certainly always been a factor of life for seafarers. Extended periods away from home, long working hours and different shift patterns can take its toll. Today we must also consider the additional potential factors of increased paperwork, a smaller crew and less opportunity for time away from the ship due to security restrictions, remoteness of ports or fast turnaround.
Being away from home doesn’t necessarily protect the seafarer from stress at home as ironically increased connectivity, which mostly has a positive effect, can sometimes mean the seafarer is burdened with all the daily problems from home without being able to effectively assist.
Trauma is a specific type of stress that reflects exposure to more serious events, generally outside the range of daily human experience, that are emotionally painful, intense, and distressing. Unfortunately no one in life escapes event-related stress, such as death of a loved one, a job loss, divorce or a natural disaster. Loss of any type is a major risk factor for depression and grieving is a normal healthy response to loss, but if it goes on for too long it can trigger a depression.
Trauma at Sea
With the potential for piracy, kidnap and terrorism at sea, as well as life threatening accidents, it is true that maritime environments can be traumatic. For some the incident, or even the perceived threat of such an incident, will cause post-traumatic symptoms to develop. Fortunately however such events are actually very rare and the majority of people who are exposed to them cope remarkably well.
Additional North resources: Supporting Crew Through the Loss of a Colleague