Hopefully, the industry is highly concerned about the importance of seafarer wellness and there are already many campaigns and industry’s initiatives trying to address crew wellbeing issues. For example, the Sailors’ Society has developed a free app for their “Wellness at Sea” coaching programme  and ‘Fit for Life’ DVD by Steamship Mutual focuses on the Physical Wellness while  a publication by HRAS entitled ‘Managing Traumatic Stress ’  aims to improve the mental health of seafarers. Also, it is worth mentioning that ISWAN offers immediate response to seafarer calls via its 24-hour multilingual helpline ‘SeafarerHelp’ and Mission to Seafarers launches regularly the results of a ‘Seafarers Happiness Index’ which measures happiness and wellbeing on board.

Even the Day of the Seafarer for 2018 is dedicated to crew wellbeing; IMO decided that seafarers’ rights to be treated fairly and enjoy quality of life at sea should be at the heart of this special day which is celebrated every year on June 25th with the aim to pay tribute to the unsung heroes.  Earlier this year, the results from “Wellness at Sea” recent research with Yale University were presented, revealing that more than a quarter of seafarers showed signs of depression, with one in 50 saying they felt depressed every day. Also, the survey, which included responses of more than 1,000 seafarers, revealed that nearly half of the seafarers with obvious depression symptoms had not asked anyone for help; thus the fear of talking about their problem openly and of losing their job prevails.

There is need, therefore, to recognize and spread the significance of the problem; discuss and help both people ashore but also those at high seas. As Mr. Steven Jones, founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, has pointed out ‘’we must work to make life at sea happier.”

Hierarchy of seafarers’ needs

In a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow "physiology", "safety", "belonging and love", "esteem", "self-actualization", and "self-transcendence" are terms used to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is usually represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom.

It is of essence for the crew members that are able to fulfill both their basic and psychological needs when onboard for which industry strives from a regulatory point of view (eg. ILO MLC 2006) and other considerable actions (eg. focus on safety culture, seafarer training, crew development, enhancing connectivity onboard)

Adapted on the basis of Maslow’s pyramid, the hierarchy of seafarer’s needs may be as follows:

  1. Physical Hygiene needs for acquiring decent working & living conditions on board are mainly addressed by ILO MLC.
  2. Safety & Security needs are addressed by industry’s regulatory framework (ILO MLC, ISM, ISPS and others) as well as actions toward safety culture implementation, extended training etc.
  3. Wellness at Sea needs are addressed by identifying Social, Emotional, Physical, Intellectual & Spiritual priorities.
  4. Crew Esteem needs are referred to the feeling of accomplishment, confidence and respect by others and may be realized by maintaining a healthy relationship with fellow crew members.
  5. Crew Career needs are realized by achieving each crew member self-awareness & self-fulfillment once the previous needs are fulfilled.

Simple ways to improve wellbeing onboard

  1. Be active and healthy: Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising can have significant benefits to seafarers’ health. It is important that crew members find an activity that they enjoy and make it part of their life onboard.
  1. Be more aware of the present moment: This step is referring to your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. This step is called awareness "mindfulness". It can positively change the way we feel about life and how we approach challenges.
  2. Keep learning: New skills can give seafarers a sense of achievement and even a new confidence. Books as well as internet onboard can be a seafarer “best friend” though!
  1. Give: It can be a smile, a thank you or a word. Larger acts, such as assisting your co-workers, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
  2. Stay connected: Connect with people around you; spend time developing relationships rather than stay alone in your free time onboard. Furthermore, keep in touch with your relatives and friends when possible. When crew is communicating with home may result in good mental health, morale and occupational effectiveness, while a lack of contact increases the risk of developing mental-health conditions.

Connectivity now vital to seafarer happiness

Although there is no unanimous verdict about whether improved connectivity is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for seafarers’ mental health and social interactions onboard ship, there are signs that improved connectivity onboard is generally beneficial.  Technology is often linked to issues such as distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification and even depression. However, help might actually come from technology; depending always by the way it is dealt with, and not the fact that it currently has a strong presence in our everyday lives.

Of course, shipping industry should not fail to invest in seafarers’ access to digital technology on the basis that doing so is detrimental to the wellbeing of the crew. This was a key outcome from latest ‘Seafarer Happiness Index’ report which revealed among others, a growing link between onboard connectivity and seafarer happiness levels. Overall the happiness level has shown a rise, achieving a level of 6.69 (out of 10)  in Q12018, up from 6.25 (out of 10) in Q4 2017.

Mental health: a state of wellbeing

Mental wellbeing mirrors your mental state; it is referring to how well you can cope with day-to-day life; it is dynamic; it can change from moment to moment, day to day, month to month or year to year.

Specifically, if you have good mental wellbeing you are able to:

  1. feel relatively confident in yourself and have positive self-esteem
  2. feel and express a range of emotions
  3. build and maintain good relationships with others
  4. feel engaged with the world around you
  5. live and work productively
  6. cope with the stresses of daily life
  7. adapt and manage in times of change and uncertainty

Good mental health is important for both personal wellbeing and work performance. In contrast, poor mental health can lead to illness and reduced productivity. It is therefore essential to support good mental health among seafarers.