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Seafarers’ growing mental health struggles as Red Sea threats escalate

Seafarers’ growing mental health struggles as Red Sea threats escalate

(Posted on 05/01/24)

Seafarers once again find themselves on the frontline of one of the world’s conflicts as they pass through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, with potential attacks coming by both air and sea; all on top of an escalation of the risk already posed by pirates.

Ship owners and managers should not underestimate the impact this situation can have on the mental health of seafarers according to Charles Watkins, Founder of Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS).

“The feeling of not knowing what could happen and the uncertainty of travelling into the unknown may lead to anxiety and exhaustion, even amongst the most seasoned mariners.

“And the more seafarers hear about other ships being attacked, the more reluctant they will be to join a vessel that will be taking that route,” he warned.

Furthermore, if they are caught up in an attack, while seafarers may exhibit symptoms of trauma immediately, there is also the possibility that, having initially appeared to have dealt with their distress, there may be a delayed response that could show up months later.

“The emotions felt at the time of the ordeal such as the fear of death, extreme anxiety, helplessness, sadness, anger, a strong longing to escape the situation, and a sense of being out of control, can all lead to short- and long-term effects,” he said.

In response to this escalating crisis, MHSS is stepping forward to offer critical mental health support to vessels operating in these high-risk areas on a pro bono basis. Mr Watkins added: "These times are exceptionally demanding for seafarers who find themselves in such challenging situations, risking their lives to support their families and keep trade flowing. It's our responsibility to stand by them, especially when they have no alternative but to navigate these hazardous waters which is why we are offering free psychological support to assist them in taking care of their mental well-being.

"When fear takes over, it's easy to forget techniques that can bolster mental resilience. We will provide guidance on calming techniques and mental self-care routines, which can be invaluable in overcoming anxiety and unease. For those who have experienced an attack, we will be there to support them as they come to terms with their ordeal. Our aim is to help seafarers realise that their reactions are entirely normal, and there's a personal journey of adjustment that everyone goes through at their own pace," he stressed.

MHSS's clinical psychologists will be available to assist and support seafarers, on a pro bono basis, who may be suffering from traumatic stress symptoms stemming from the ongoing drone attacks and pirate threats. The services are designed to help seafarers cope with the psychological toll of these traumatic events, offering them a safe space to process their experiences and emotions.

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