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Understanding Adjustment Disorder Versus Triggered Disorders




A Guide for Seafarers


Seafaring is a demanding and unique profession that requires immense adaptability and resilience. The extended periods away from home, the isolation, and the unpredictability of the sea can profoundly affect a seafarer's mental health. Understanding the differences between adjustment disorder and a mental health disorder being triggered is crucial for effective management and seeking appropriate help. This guide aims to provide detailed insights into these conditions, how to differentiate between them, and practical ways to cope.


Adjustment Disorder: Navigating New Stressors


Definition: Adjustment disorder is a stress-related condition where an individual experiences emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a significant life change or stressor. These symptoms usually develop within three months of encountering the stressor and can significantly impair daily functioning. This condition is notably prevalent among new seafarers who are still acclimating to the rigors and unique lifestyle of maritime work.


Symptoms:


  • Persistent sadness or hopelessness

  • Anxiety and excessive worry

  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia or excessive sleeping)

  • Changes in appetite, leading to weight gain or loss

  • Social withdrawal and isolation

  • Irritability or anger outbursts

  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed



Common Stressors for Seafarers:


  • Long separations from family and friends

  • Adapting to a new vessel, crew, or role

  • Unpredictable and demanding work schedules

  • Exposure to harsh and potentially dangerous weather conditions


Differentiation: Adjustment disorder symptoms are directly related to a specific stressor and typically resolve once the individual adapts to the change. The symptoms are often proportional to the intensity of the stressor and are not indicative of a deeper, pre-existing mental health issue.


Management Strategies:


Pre-Departure Preparation:

  • Engage in comprehensive pre-departure briefings.

  • Familiarize yourself with the vessel, crew, and anticipated duties.

  • Set realistic expectations about life onboard.


Maintaining Support Networks:

Keep regular communication with loved ones through emails, video calls, or social media.

Build a support network onboard by connecting with crewmates.


Healthy Lifestyle Choices:

Ensure a balanced diet rich in nutrients.

Incorporate regular physical exercise into your routine.

Prioritize adequate sleep to maintain energy and mental clarity.


Professional Help:

Seek support from onboard mental health officers or counselors.

Utilize shore-based counseling services if symptoms persist or worsen.




Triggered Disorders: When Past Trauma Resurfaces

Definition: A triggered disorder occurs when an individual with a pre-existing mental health condition experiences a resurgence of symptoms due to specific triggers. These triggers can be any stimuli that remind the individual of past traumas or stressful experiences, leading to the reactivation of the disorder.


Symptoms:


  • Flashbacks or intrusive memories related to past trauma

  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks

  • Heightened irritability or aggressive behavior

  • Avoidance of places, people, or activities that trigger memories of the trauma

  • Emotional numbness or detachment from others

  • Hypervigilance and an exaggerated startle response

  • Increased use of alcohol or substances as a coping mechanism


Common Triggers for Seafarers:


  • Encountering rough seas or adverse weather conditions reminiscent of past traumatic voyages

  • Conflicts or bullying onboard similar to previous stressful interactions

  • Periods of isolation triggering memories of past experiences with loneliness or abandonment

Differentiation: Unlike adjustment disorder, triggered disorders are linked to past traumas rather than current stressors. Symptoms are often more severe and can significantly impair daily functioning. The presence of specific triggers that consistently provoke symptoms can help differentiate a triggered disorder from adjustment disorder.


Management Strategies:


Identification of Triggers:

Keep a detailed journal to identify and understand specific triggers.

Note down situations, environments, or interactions that lead to symptom flare-ups.


Grounding Techniques:

Practice deep breathing exercises to manage immediate anxiety.

Use mindfulness techniques to stay present and avoid getting lost in traumatic memories.

Engage in physical activities or hobbies that divert attention from distressing thoughts.


Building Peer Support:

Talk to trusted crewmates about your experiences and feelings.

Join support groups for seafarers with similar experiences to share coping strategies and emotional support.


Professional Treatment:

  • Engage with mental health professionals who specialize in trauma and PTSD.

  • Consider therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), or other trauma-focused treatments.

  • Explore medication options with a healthcare provider if necessary.


Coping Strategies for Seafarers


Self-Care Routine:

Establish a daily routine that includes time for relaxation and self-care activities.

Practice stress-relief techniques such as meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation.


Healthy Coping Mechanisms:

Avoid using alcohol or substances to cope with stress or anxiety.

Find healthy outlets for stress, such as physical exercise, creative activities, or journaling.


Emergency Plan:

Develop an emergency plan for severe anxiety or panic attacks, including breathing exercises and contacting a trusted person for support.

Keep a list of emergency contacts and mental health resources accessible.


Continuous Learning:

Educate yourself about mental health and the specific conditions you are experiencing.

Stay informed about new coping strategies and therapeutic approaches.


Seeking Help

If you're struggling with mental health issues while onboard, reaching out for help is crucial. Many shipping companies provide access to mental health professionals and resources. Early intervention can prevent the escalation of symptoms and ensure your well-being while at sea.




Navigating the complexities of mental health as a seafarer involves understanding the nature of your symptoms and their underlying causes. Recognizing the signs of adjustment disorder and triggered disorders, differentiating between them, and knowing how to manage and seek help can make a significant difference in your well-being. Remember, maintaining mental health is just as crucial as physical health in ensuring a safe and fulfilling seafaring career. By taking proactive steps and utilizing available resources, you can better manage your mental health and thrive in your profession.


Contact pmh@imeq-center.com if you feel like you need help.

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