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Struggling seafarers need more mental health support

Struggling seafarers need more mental health support

(Posted on 13/09/21)

Cases of seafarers struggling with their mental health will continue to rise unless shipping companies take more responsibility for encouraging crew members to talk openly with a colleague, family member or friend about their problems.

In the run up to World Suicide Prevention Day, Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS) called on employers to provide more support to mariners facing intense pressure to keep delivering consumer goods globally amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Shipping companies should focus on the preventative measures for suicide by creating awareness, talking about it and breaking the taboo of bringing it up,” said Charles Watkins, Managing Director and Clinical Psychologist at MHSS.

The company, which provides 24/7 professional mental health support to the shipping sector, saw calls from seafarers to its phone line surge by 60% between April and June 2021. Issues raised during the calls included anxiety, bullying or crew conflict arising from limited experience with different cultures or nationalities.

Mr Watkins also urged the maritime industry to make crew members aware that help is available through services such as MHSS.

“Offering people the opportunity to talk about their issues is vital – but they need to be aware of the help available to them,” he said. “We can assess a person’s wellbeing by simply giving them a chance to talk.

“We can also follow up with anyone onboard who is affected by suicidal ideation, be it the person dealing with mental health issues or seafarers impacted by a colleague who is feeling anxious, depressed or suicidal.”

Sobering statistics from the World Health Organization show that more than 700,000 people globally die by suicide each year, most commonly through ingesting pesticides, hanging or using firearms on themselves. For every suicide, there are more than 20 attempts of people trying to take their own lives.

Moreover, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15–19-year-olds, something shipping companies with young cadets need to be aware of, according to Mr Watkins.

Encouraging seafarers to share their problems and directing them to services like MHSS are some of the actions shipping companies should take. Sophia Onken, Partner and Clinical Psychologist at MHSS, also believes they can support crew members by helping them to understand and debunk various myths around suicide, such as:  

  • Someone who talks about suicide will never attempt to take their own life
  • Talking about suicide will encourage others to consider killing themselves
  • Suicide attempts happen without warning
  • Once someone wants to complete suicide, there is no way to stop them
  • Only certain types of people become suicidal
  • Depression and self-destructive behaviour are rare in young people.

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