Many people are affected by mental illnesses, which they can control before taking up a job at sea. However, these symptoms may increase at sea, as seafarers experience many difficult situations during their work. As April Goh, Skuld's Claims Executive, notice, some of the factors that could contribute to this are:
- No set schedule;
- Lack of social interaction;
- Crew members who are unfamiliar with each other;
- Limitations on physical movements;
- Loneliness from separation of family/social life.
Preventing mental health emergencies
A company should regularly check and support open dialogue regarding seafarers' personal lives and stressors while on board. This will be able to mitigate isolation and make it easier to communicate problems in a timely manner.
Signs of mental illnesses
First symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Panic attacks;
- Thoughts of being threatened;
- Extreme worry.
As for depression, its symptoms may not be as easy to notice. However, some of the initial signs may include:
- Loss of interest in activities;
- Sleeping too much;
- Continuous fatigue or low energy;
- difficulty concentrating;
- Thoughts of worthlessness.
Regarding psychosis, its signs are obvious and include:
- Extreme agitation.
How to deal with mental disorder
At first noting the crew member's feelings, listening to his or her wishes, and trying to come to a reasonable agreement may be helpful, especially for depression.
As for psychotic events, these may be considered a medical emergency. In this case, Skuld suggests that radio medical advice should be used for assistance.
In addition, people with mental health problems have increased risk of suicide. To mitigate this, a safety plan must be in place, such as having an attendant with the crew member. Another important fact is that physical restraints should be avoided until the individual can be removed from the ship.
Treatment and return to work
Crew members with mental illness symptoms have to be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional. Medications for anxiety and depression may be started, but usually a four to six weeks trial is needed to determine the effectiveness of the medication, the Club notes.
Once the medication is regulated, then it may be possible for the seafarer to return on duty, but after a qualified medical professional had determined so.