Stress and fears about the future are contributing to high levels of depression among the nation’s fishermen who are not as highly valued as farmers, says a university researcher.
A nationwide survey of the fishing industry shows greater psychological stress and almost double the rate of depression than the national average.
Almost 1,000 registered commercial fishers responded to the study undertaken by Deakin University.
The results showed 19 per cent rate of depression among industry workers compared to the estimated national diagnosis of 10 per cent.
Lead researcher Dr Tanya King said uncertainty in the industry was the main cause for the poor mental health outcomes.
“Fishermen aren’t just a bunch of whingers,” she said.
Pressures in fishing
“One of the big issues that came out in the survey was that the causes of poor mental health was what we call modern uncertainties.”
Dr King said issues such as the threat of rapid closures, politicised fisheries management and sudden changes that affected the livelihoods of those who worked in the industry were identified.
Dr King said the industry did not enjoy the same kind of support as the agricultural sector.
“There’s great awareness of poor mental health and the stresses of living on the land and being a primary producer,” she said.
“Under the same policy umbrella though we have a group of primary producers —fishers — who don’t get that recognition.”
But Dr King said she hoped having the statistical data to back up the anecdotal evidence of poor mental health would lead to better policy outcomes.
Another finding of the study was that 39 per cent of respondents reported they didn’t bring up their mental health problems up with their GP.
Results not surprising
Dr King said that respondents felt their GP did not understand the pressures of the fishing industry.
“Australians don’t culturally value fishers like we venerate farmers,” she said.
Neville Clark is a third generation fishermen from Corners Inlet in Gippsland, he said the results of the survey weren’t surprising.
“There are a lot of directions where stress can come from in the fishing industry,” Mr Clark said.
When Mr Clark started fishing in the early 1980s he said there were 45 fishermen at Corners Inlet. Now there are just 18.
“Over the years the bay and inlet fisheries along the Victorian coast have been closed to make way for recreational fishing,” he said.
“We wonder whether that will happen to us, that’s a big thing.”
Housing and business loans
Mr Clark said it was harder for younger licence holders.
“They’ve got their housing loans and business loans and it’s a worry I guess,” he said.
“When you’re trying to get ahead and you don’t know if you’ll still be working in this industry going forward.”