ISWAN has published their annual review. It can be found here. It’s about 30 pages long, and offers a very good insight for the problems our seafarers are facing. It also gives a snapshot of areas where shipowners and ship managers can make prompt changes which will have a tangible impact on the well-being of the crew.
Here are some statistics on men’s mental health 1 (take time and read them): more than three quarters of people who kill themselves are men; men are three times more likely to become alcohol dependent than women; 73% of adults who ‘’go missing’’ are men, men are less likely to seek psychological help or to attend therapy than women.
These stats are staggering and while some voices in the industry say that we are blowing the subject out of proportion, my view differs. I think the numbers are very worrying and we must open avenues to have a good conversation about mental health on board and support, which responsible employers should provide.
There are many factors contributing to mental health
Social interaction, economical background, quality of relationship with out loved ones, friends, and colleagues; but also illness, bereavement, stress, quality of sleep, trauma, and more, so it is a multidimensional issue and all those elements are present in every-day lives on board.
Shipping is a complex industry and slow response to rapid changes in the last few decades make it challenging to improve mental health on board; port stays become shorter, berths – remote, recreational facilities scarce and piracy has thrived. All these call for some action from authorities, but I also believe that ship owners and ship managers having a duty of care should look at what they can do to improve mental health of seafarers.
Some companies have introduced comprehensive wellness initiatives across their fleet and we can learn from them.
Shipping companies could look at manning levels on board; types of activities and welfare provided on board, and build up awareness. In my view, building up awareness is essential in opening the conversation. Mental health is not something most seafarers will talk about without a prompt. However, when there is an atmosphere of trust and safety, many of them will willingly share experiences and often share coping mechanisms. There is nothing more powerful that a member of the crew who opens up and talk about how he or she overcame their struggles.
Some recent industry discussions touch on introducing training on mental health to seafarers. It may be a good initiative, but we must be careful of not making it another tick box exercise and shift responsibility for mental health support to those on board.
It is crucial that we start having a dialogue between shore and ships’ teams about importance and actual existence of mental health. This can be done during Crew Conferences.
It should be stressed that senior officers are not expected to be therapists or to fix an individual’s problems, but the crew may benefit from building up awareness and what are the signs of deteriorating mental health, so they can identify and sign post a crew member who may need help.
Sadly in the past on more than one occasion, I came across of loss of life on board and the ships’ crew were always considerate, tactful and supportive towards each other and towards the family of the person who passed away. After such a traumatic event, what really was often overlooked by a shore team was a follow up on the crew impacted by this.
Having a mechanism i.e. person trained in mental health awareness ashore may be a great way to increase well-being on board. Someone who understands mental health and and knows strategies to improve it. It is an invaluable support and provide a significant value in employee engagement.
Even small steps, like providing seafarers with contact details of helpline or having a campaign about mental health, may provide benefits to each and every person on board, but also to employers. There is huge value in being an employer who not only want to be financially successful, but also someone who genuinely cares about the well being of employees.
Speak to your crew; ask about their expectations in the area of mental health. I guarantee they will share their experiences and make good suggestions, which often can be easily implemented.
If you need any further pointers, if you feel overwhelmed by the subject, or if you don’t know where to start, do get in touch and I will help you, You can email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org