In a recent Britannia Club webinar, experts discussed about the factors that may influence a seafarer’s mental health and how these can have a significant impact on safety and a seafarer’s overall performance on board.
tarting the presentation, Jacob Damgaard, Associate Director, Loss Prevention, Britannia P&I, referred to the issue of mental health and to the reasons why mental health is important, especially in shipping industry.
As World Health Organization (WHO) explained, mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stressors of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make contributions to his or her own community.
Why is mental health important?
- Maintenance of wellbeing and emotional health
- Ensure crew harmony
- Influence safety
- Impact on performance and productivity
- ESG-Sustainability compliance
- Retention of crew
- Reputational damage
Statistics by Marine Benefits 2022 report
Credit: Britannia Club
It’s very important members, to provide soft skill training to crew and necessary resources to develop a healthy work-living environment, for their mental health onboard.
..said Mr. Jacob Damgaard
Dr. Katherine Sinclaire, Senior Medical Advisor, International SOS, in turn, highlighted that according to WHO World Mental Health Report 2022, more than one billion people worldwide have a mental health disorder. Furthermore, mental disorders are the leading cause of “years lived with disability”. As explained, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15 – 29-year-olds and depression cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion per year.
There is a wide gap in disease burden and mental health services, worse in low income countries.
..said Dr Katherine Sinclaire.
Mental health and seafarers
According to Dr Katherine Sinclaire, various other studies have also demonstrated a higher incidence of stress and other mental health disorders amongst officers on board.
Although our data is limited, it does reflect these observations. Providing education and support to managers as the people who manage the people, has also been identified as a key element.
5 Things you can do to improve mental health onboard
Dr Katherine Sinclaire highlights that to improve mental health you must maintain your physical wellness as well.
#1 Regular exercise is important, and you must ensure that seafarers onboard have the equipment onboard for exercise. For example, you can moderate 150 minutes intensity per week.
# 2 Balance diet: 5 fruit-vegetables per day. Limit processed foods, salt, sugar, saturated fats
# 3 Adequate sleep: 7-9 hours per night. Good sleep hygiene: regular schedule, comfortable environment, avoid large meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the evenings.
#4 Stress management: 10-20 min per day of stress-reducing activity e.g. mindfulness, reading
#5 Social Interaction: Meeting friends and colleagues outside of work duties 2 times per week e.g. games/ sporting activities on board.
Gut-brain axis: Did you know?
Dr Katherine Sinclaire talked about the gut Microbiome, which is trillions of microorganisms in the small and large intestine. As informed, the gut-brain axis is a two-way communication system between your gastro-intestinal tract and your central nervous system. The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of micro-organisms that are in our small and large intestines. Furthermore, the health of your gut microbiome can affect mood, sleep, and anxiety levels. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and probiotics can improve and maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
In turn, Panos Trichonas Fleet Manager, People Risks Department, Britannia P&I, referred to the statistics of illness claims. In particular, illness claims account for approximately two-thirds of crew claims reported to the Club. Furthermore, cases involving mental health issues appear in the “top 10” types of illness reported. Out of which an important number of these cases were suicides, including suspected or attempted suicides.
In fact, according to a study by the World Health Organisation, seafarers are the second most at risk profession worldwide when it comes to suicide. Whilst suicides are an extreme example of this, the mental health of seafarers continues to be of concern to the Club. Over the years the mental health of seafarers has been the focus of many articles in our regular publications Crew Watch.
How can the Club help?
In cases a seafarer is showing signs of mental illness, it is common for the Club to engage with medical professionals to seek professional guidance on the best treatment. In cases where the crew has suffered a collective trauma, for example a piracy attack or the traumatic death of fellow crew members, then we have on occasion sought assistance from seafaring charities (e.g. Stella Maris) and/or psychologists.
To sum up, mental health is recognized as a problem at sea and can influence the performance of a seafarer. Owners and crew need to be proactive and wellbeing is essential to promote mental health.