Is the increased focus on mental health ashore also changing attitudes at sea?


Mark O'Neil
President, Columbia Marlow Shipmanagement
Ray Barker
Head of Operations, ISWAN
Yes. What we think and feel, and how these emotions drive how we behave (i.e our mental health), is far more openly discussed onboard than in the past. With the increased focus on the Human Element as a critical factor and consideration in performance enhancement, and the application of ever more sophisticated Human Resource techniques onboard and ashore, it is no longer pretended that mental health issues do not occur (or only infrequently occur). Alongside increased awareness of the issue by crew members (who are critical in the identification of the first signs of any mental health issues), we at CSM are working closely with experts to provide training on identification, support and basic therapy/first aid. The short answer is YES. I think the turning point in the UK was the soldiers returning home after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the issue of mental health, particularly PTSD started to be discussed openly. That made it easier for others to talk about mental health such as Prince Harry who spoke about his mother’s death and how it affected him and over the last 18 months or so in the UK almost every week there is a celebrity or ordinary member of the public talking openly on TV, Radio or in the newspapers about a mental health issue and how it has affected them. This has raised awareness of mental health issues generally and because people are being more open about it, it is making it an easier subject to talk about. This has in turn has made it easier for seafarers to talk about their mental health issues and has raised the profile of mental health for shipping companies as well.
John Webb
Senior Executive (Claims), The North of England P&I Club
Prof. Sarah Honebon
Research Officer, Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, Solent University
YES – The increased focus on mental health issues globally has contributed to a greater understanding of the psychological problems faced by many seafarer’s working on-board vessels, such as loneliness and isolation.But the early signs are encouraging for our industry.  A search of the website of many P&I Clubs and seafarers organisations will reveal a plethora of mental health advice and resources which were not available five years ago. The greater awareness of mental health issues has fostered a genuine willingness by stakeholders to support seafarers, either through the provision of resources on-board and ashore or the provision of dedicated confidential telephone helplines where seafarer’s can either call/skype/live chat to discuss their own problems with a qualified counsellor. One such initiative is North’s My Mind Matters programme. Whilst attitudes towards mental health issues are changing there is still a long way to go for the shipping industry and society as a whole. Working together we can make things better. To find out more about North’s My Mind Matters programme please visit Maybe. The focus on mental health ashore is definitely infiltrating conversations surrounding mental health at sea. However, what could be considered rather dangerous is the lack of research and sound evidence that demonstrates facts. Seafaring is culturally and logistically complex, so consistent, affordable and accessible healthcare is challenging. Theoretical discussion has to be supported by tangible and practical solutions otherwise there is the potential to increase occupational health statistics.

All our attitudes are changing towards mental health, but questions remain unanswered. Where are the industry vulnerabilities? What preventative measures can support industry members? ‘Mental health’, despite being talked about more freely, still carries stigma. Research and education are key to ensure the industry is better placed to deal with it.

Prof. Helen Sampson
Director, Seafarers International Research Centre, School of Social Science, Cardiff University

Johan Smith
Wellness Project Manager, Sailors' Society
I hope so. There are lessons from land-based research, on the relationship between the built environment and human wellbeing, that need to be carried over to the shipboard context. We know, for example, that fatigue correlates with anxiety/depression and that noise, temperature, and vibration, all impact negatively on sleep quality. It is less well-known that the fabric of the built environment, (colour, access to nature, space) also impact on mental wellbeing. Contemporary seafarers have limited access to shore-leave which has serious implications for their physical fitness and mental wellbeing. It is therefore essential that facilities for shipboard recreation are provided (including swimming pools, and games courts) and that operators do not solely rely on the promotion of ’resilience-building’  strategies amongst seafarers. Yes, definitely. A better shore-based understanding of mental health not only brings improved awareness to the maritime space but also advances knowledge about the factors that influence mental health in the workplace.  This awareness is spilling over into the maritime industry, as we can see through the growing interest from shipping companies in initiatives such as Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea programme.  We still have a long way to go, but we are seeing positive signs and for our part we will continue to raise awareness of the importance of seafarer mental health both within and outside the industry.

Dr. Phil Sharples
Senior Medicar Director, UnitedHealthcare Global Medical
Yes, there is an increasing awareness of the risks to health and safety from fatigue. It is well documented that excessive fatigue can have significant adverse outcomes for performance, health and well-being. The oil and gas, which has considerable maritime operations have recognised that investigations into some of the worst Industrial and environmental accidents of the past 30 years have identified fatigue as a major contributory factor to the incident. As a result, this industry is producing guidance to assist managers to understand, recognize and manage fatigue in the workplace as well as establish and deliver a Fatigue Risk Management Programme. The wider maritime industry is experiencing the same challenges from fatigue and may well be able leverage this guidance.