As much as it’s written and spoken about the importance of mental and physical health of the seafarers who work far from medical providers, far from their families and home, in harsh environments and under constant pressure and increased responsibility not many Ship owners are making progress with making access to mental health specialists readily available and usable, notes Mrs Elena Donina Glukhman, AP Companies.
Mental health is an important part of physical wellbeing aboard ship. And in the context of the Ship and working onboard we are talking not only about well-being, good-feeling and “good mood” of one isolated person/seafarer, but we are talking about the safety of the entire Ship at times. Psychological problems on board, unfortunately are frequent, complex, multi-dimensional and expressed in multiple ways combining often psychological, behavioral and physical symptoms. They range from non-severe and short episodes, which can be treated, to long-lasting and life impacting conditions and sometimes acute and life-threatening crisis. Depression can lead to suicide, a tragic loss of a life resulting from a situation that might have been prevented or resolved. It’s not always that mental status is extremely severe or life threatening and dramatic in every case, but not being addressed timely and professionally it can become escalated and dangerous.
AP Companies has been providing Mental Health Helpline to number of Seafarers working onboard or during their time off, for some years now. We have seen that the opportunity of the ship master and the seafarers to access professional psychological help whenever it is needed, cannot be underestimated. We have noticed that the service would be used from time to time at the initial stage of launching it on a Vessel, but as efficiency of the outcome is obvious and access to the service is straight forward and easy, it would be used on a regular basis and dramatically improve safety and “happiness” index onboard the Ship. We would like to share with you a case study of one of the mental health cases we have recently managed at AP Companies. It is very typical and common for the cases we have seen onboard. Please note, all personal data is changed for the purposes of GDPR.
Mirko Vuchich, was a mature 45 years old seafarer, with a huge experience on different vessels. These days, he felt especially sensitive, as his mother was hospitalized with serious long lasting condition, for almost 2 months, and he did not have chance to visit her and was fearing for her life and the fact, that he might not be in time, when he gets back on shore. Apart from that, he felt especially alone, the majority of the crew were from India and Philipines, and social rapport was difficult to maintain, the cultural difference was too big. The usual stress and long working hours also added to his condition. Mirko was not sleeping well, always tired, he stopped his exercise routine. Sometimes he missed the meals, as he did not feel hungry and his physical appearance has changed, as he did not seem to care about such things any more.
The Master of the ship noticed, that Mirko became quite aggressive, very distracted, he could hardly see him speaking to any of his colleagues out of working hours, he saw that something was going on. Captain Svenson decided to use Psychological helpline in order to ask for advice on how to better approach this situation. AP Companies specially trained psychologists advised the captain on how to speak with Mirko and convince him to make the call. Asking for help in such moments, is the first step towards solution of the crisis. Mirko was not very enthusiastic about the idea of using the Helpline, but the master insisted in several occasions, and finally Mirko agreed. Being shy and reluctant to reach out for help for the first time is always a challenge and we were very thankful to Capt. Svenson that he managed to convince Mirko to make that first call and engage in conversation.
The main purpose of AP Companies psychologists on the first call is to create trust and rapport to make the patient comfortable to speak and explain what was happening. Special coaching tools help our specialists to find out the reasons behind this or that state of the person.
Mirko’s condition was quite acute, he was actually on board of the tragedy and speaking to psychologists, and slowly accepting the help and the tools he was offered to try, has gradually changed his perception. Now he was waiting for his weekly sessions, making small steps towards improving his condition. He learned how to deal with his anxiety and how to relax, in order to get the proper sleep. He accepted to start exercising again and in 2 months, he got back to his normal life.
The Master was happy and relieved to observe these changes, and the entire crew has benefited from this treatment as the atmosphere on board has become healthier and much more constructive. It may seem strange, but when one crew member goes through a personal crisis it may affect safety and wellbeing of the entire ship.
With the Pandemic of Covid 19, AP Companies team of Psychologists, noticed that the feeling of fear and anxiety, uncertainty on how the situation will affect the seafarers and their families back home, has led to even bigger stress. On the other hand, life on board is also hugely affected by Covid19, as seafarers have to change their routines and be very conscious on the preventive measures and the risk of exposure. In such situations professional psychological help is hugely important and AP Companies is very happy to contribute to seafarer’s wellbeing in such challenging times. All our psychologists ask for – is an opportunity to help seafarers improve their quality of life. One call may save as little as a “good day” and as much as a life for someone. Be tentative and careful about one’s feelings.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.