Mental health is a key issue for every workplace, including seafaring which is characterized by increased workload and isolation. WHO defines mental health “as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
A ‘red zone’ for seafarers
A recent study by Cardiff University identified the following factors pre-disposing seafarers at mental illness: isolation-loneliness, lack of shore leave, fear of criminalization, fear of job loss and separation from family.
Key steps for enhancing crew’s mental health
- Socialize: Take time for regular tours round the ship and have informal chats. Spend time with others and participate in social life onboard.
- Don’t keep problems to yourself: Share your problems with a person close to you, onboard or ashore. If you feel lonely, reach out to others, do something together. This can give anyone a sense of time out and can be a good distraction.
- Do not neglect importance of physical wellness:
–Eat well: A healthy diet is the A and Z to a sense of wellbeing.
–Get a quality sleep: Set an alarm at a regular time each day, avoid computer when you go to bed, and use your bed mainly for sleep.
–Exercise: Exercise can clear your thoughts and get into a better state of mind to deal with your problems.
- Identify the source of your stress: Make a list of the things worrying you or talk it over with someone you trust to identify the main causes of stress. Then plan your action.
- Engage with others in a respectful way: A key component of wellbeing is harmonic co-existence with others. Be respectful and this respect will be reflected back. If there are any problems, deal with them as soon as possible. Do not tolerate bullying and harassment.
- Do not underestimate the impact of details: You may feel broken down, but even small things like having an open door to your cabin or watching a movie in the common areas can make a difference to your mental health after a while.
- Be present: Train yourself on the practice of mindfulness meditation to bring attention to whatever is happening in the present moment. This helps you to manage your stress and find inner peace.
- Take initiatives: Encourage social activities onboard, don’t wait for others to think of all the good ideas!
- Take care of others: Reach out to any of your colleagues who seem to be feeling down. Even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word.
- Remain vigilant: See the signs to yourself and others. The following factors may indicate a mental health problem:
- Changes in behaviour or mood
- Changes in effectiveness at work
- Inability to focus/make decisions
- Changes in eating habits
- Excessive alcohol use or drug use.
This is as much as the seafarer can do for themselves. Always pay attention to the signals your mind and body are giving you and ask for help if you are in a crisis situation. Your safety is the number one priority.