Although originating from the yacht sector, Emma Kate Ross, a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Co-Founder/Director at SEAS THE MIND, shares practical advice regarding crew members’ mental health that applies to other sectors of the maritime industry as well. She emphasizes that a proactive approach is necessary to incentivize crews to take care of both their mental and physical health at sea.
urthermore, she advocates for a training course on Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) tailored to the yacht sector, urging stakeholders to consider such courses as mandatory for STCW certification. In conclusion, Emma Kate argues that investment in training and knowledge can significantly impact the health and resilience of crews.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the key priorities in your agenda for the next five years?
Emma Kate Ross: Creating mentally healthy crew through yachting specific onboard or online Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. Using my experience and expertise within the industry to ensure every crew members mental health is supported at sea and the seafarers become more resilient and even better equipped for what life at sea throws at them! Our short term goal is to get as many crew trained as possible and the long term goal is to get MHFA training as part of the next STCW revision.
S4S: Do you think the mental health issues are being adequately addressed in the yacht industry?
E.K.R.: Not yet, but we and many others are starting to recognise the importance of talking about our mental health at sea, what we can do to prevent life loss, prevent illness and injuries, provide comfort and yachting specific resources and to finally address the stigma within out industry.
S4S: What challenges have you encountered in advocating for mental health awareness in the sector, and how have you addressed them?
E.K.R.: I’ve had Captains come into my classroom and tell me they don’t believe in mental health and to prove it to them, only for them to complete the course and advocate for it to be mandatory for all crew, especial HOD’s. I believe in the training and seen the benefit it can bring to crew across all departments, so I try to question where the challenge or resistance comes from in an approachable, inquisitive manner and try get over, under or right through the barrier through better conversations and connection with crew resistance to change or worried about what the training covers.
S4S: How do you see your trainings contributing to the mental well-being of crew? What is your feedback so far?
E.K.R.: We promote self care and accountability throughout our training, so crew members understand that their mental health, very much like their physical health is their responsibility to maintain and actively keep as robust as possible. We teach crew what the signs and symptoms are for the most common mental health issues, so they can be aware and proactive about taking care of themselves, providing first response level care in a crisis and how to put policy in place for preventive measures, maintain overall health of the crew and the successful running of the yacht. The feedback has been incredible, we notice three key messages keep popping up in our feedback, 1. crew wishing the had had this training sooner, 2. crew believing this training to be as important as physical first aid, and the overwhelming response 3. this training should be mandatory for all crew as part of the STCW, but especially pertinent for Captains and HOF’S who have a duty of care for the well being of their departments.
S4S: What topics and skills are covered in your training programs, and how are they tailored to the unique challenges faced by crew in the yacht industry?
E.K.R.: Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a training course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. You’ll learn to recognise warning signs of mental ill health and develop the skills and confidence to approach and support someone while keeping yourself safe. Learning takes place through a mix of presentations, group discussions, and workshop activities. Our MHFAider® courses:
- Encourage people to challenge the language we use around mental health
- Explore our different frames of reference and the stigma attached to mental health
- Help people to understand what good mental health looks like
- Explore the factors that can have an impact on our mental health
- Look at how to support yourself and others with self-care, giving the skills to influence your own mental health and help prevent mental ill health
- Teach how to intervene (including in a crisis), reassure and signpost to further support
- Teach about diagnosable mental health conditions, what unwell looks like and how to spot these signs in yourself and others
- Talk about what to do if you think someone is unwell and the steps to take for early intervention
- Talk about recovery from mental illness and looking forward
We only have crew training crew, so we don’t just understand life onboard, we have lived it too! Furthermore, we have adapted the case studies, conversation starters, examples and language we use to recognise and challenge the uniqueness of life onboard a ship and created a global resources list specific to crew that keeps them safe and supported post training.
S4S: Are there specific challenges or considerations when delivering mental health training to crews onboard?
E.K.R.: We always prioritise personal safety and continuous access to support and resources after the course is complete. Ideally, we try to do our training in person, onboard, but we are adaptable and flexible to a busy crew, busy boat and demanding schedules, and we always take that into consideration.
S4S: Have you noticed any trends during the last years and a possible alarming trend for the years to come with respect to seafarer’s mental health?
E.K.R.: The trend we have noticed the most is the demand for more conversations and more visible revenues of support and onboard care around Mental Health. QuayCrew along with MHSS produced an insightful and nuanced survey around crew mental health in 2021 and that showed some alarming statistics and industry failings. QuayCrew are due to bring out another survey in February this year and that should give us even more understanding of the state of seafarers mental health and what we need to be acknowledging and then addressing.
S4S: What is your wish list for the operators with regards to mental health? What needs to be considered to discussions around mental health issues onboard and ashore?
E.K.R.: My wish would be for the MHFA Awareness 4-hour course to be a part of the STCW certification, and for and HOD’s, not just Officers, but all crew that manage teams across all departments onboard to do the 2 day Mental Health First Aid as as requirement of their job, as they do for advance fire fighting and advance medical training. Statistically we are more likely to meet a crew member experiencing poor mental health then an arterial bleed, but due to the nature of our work and being at sea we should be trained to recognise and treat both as a first responder, until professional help arrives or prevent further injury and illness if professional help is not required.
S4S: If you could change one thing from your perspective, what this one thing would it be and why?
E.K.R.: Empower crews to be proactive in maintaining their own metal health in the same way they think about and protect their physical health onboard, and to know who to reach out to when they need help for themselves or others.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders to creating mentally healthy and resilient crews?
E.K.R.: Invest in your crew, get them trained and thinking about their own health and resilience onboard, as a healthy yacht is one where crew work together to protect and promote their health, safety and wellbeing and therefor their sustainability and keeping those valuable skills and leaders within the industry.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.