For seafarers mental health issues are a very important matter. These can include the pressures of being separation from family and isolation. For this reason, the UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) have created new guidelines to help shipping companies set up policies on mental well-being.
According to the Office of National Statistics, one in six adults will be experiencing a mental health problem at any one time. Thus, a mental well-being policy is necessary.
The aim of the new guidelines is to create awareness for the importance of good mental health among the seafaring workforce, and to support companies in adopting a culture to improving the mental wellbeing of seafarers.
Namely, such a policy should be in writing and should:
- Designate a director responsible for the policy, while indicating the commitment from the full management board to the policy;
- Indicate concern for the health, safety and welfare of seafarers and others in the company;
- Spread positive messages to staff indicating that the company promotes the good mental health of all staff, creating a supportive company culture;
- Provide literature via noticeboards and/or company intranet to promote the benefits of personal interaction and communication to good mental health;
- Provide details of persons within and outside to the company who are trained in listening to persons wishing to discuss their state of mental health.
To implement correctly the new policy, the companies should make reasonable adjustments to working arrangements for seafarers who have mental health problems or who are returning to work after absence resulting from a mental health problem. These may include:
- Ensuring that there is a colleague on board who is trained and can act as the seafarer’s confidant;
- Offering access to specialist external support;
- Phasing a return to work.
Moreover, when a seafarer has been declared temporarily unfit for sea service by an approved doctor, actions to support the seafarer’s return to work should take into account any information from the certifying doctor.
If a seafarer is suspected of having, or has been identified as having, a mental health problem, a member of the company’s management who has been given appropriate training for the task should meet with the seafarer. The meeting should take place in confidence and the seafarer should be encouraged to talk, without time limitations. The manager should ask open questions to allow the seafarer to express themselves as they
choose and to reveal as much information as they wish. A follow-up meeting may be necessary.
In addition, if the manager believes that further support is needed, the seafarer should be encouraged to make an appointment with their General Practitioner. An appointment should also be made with an Approved Doctor to determine whether the seafarer’s medical status should be changed.
It is important that the company periodically evaluates its approach to mental health and identifies areas for further development, reporting back on its progress to all seafarers.
- Changes in their behaviour or mood;
- Changes in their effectiveness at work;
- An inability to focus or make decisions;
- Changes in eating habits;
- Signs of excessive alcohol use or drug use (not limited to illegal drugs).