Stress at Sea

"The first and perhaps greatest challenge is the social stigma associated with mental illness. A person with mental illness is often assumed to be no longer employable. The main reason for this assumption is the lack of understanding of the illness and the lack of awareness of how it is treated and managed. Mental illness, like most other illnesses, is curable." 

Kunal Pathak (Link to the full article attached)

Over the last couple of years, many industries have started to address the ever-present issue of mental health. Shore-side companies have a myriad of tools at their disposal from training staff as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) to changing working patterns or conditions or even counselling. These options are not easy to implement at sea. 

Statistically, over 25 per cent of people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. For those working at sea, the implications of that figure are significantly and conceivably dangerously higher. 

Gard's study shows deaths related to illness and injuries have declined, and this is as a result of better PPE and training. On the other hand, mental illnesses have remained the same because seafarers have not been given the same tools to combat mental health as they have for illness and injuries. 

What elements affect seafarers? 

Food – They say the most important position on the ship is the cook. A hungry crew is not a happy crew. 

Social Microcosm – Unlike working in an office if you don't get on with someone, you cannot just avoid him or her, and this can lead to being ostracised.  

Isolation – This is up to the individual some crewmembers embrace life at sea and try to organise film nights, Karaoke or gym sessions. This is not always the case many retire to their cabins after dinner, which can be as early as 5 pm not to be seen until the next day. Social interaction with the rest of the crew is essential for the individuals and as a collective.

Long-distance relationships – Being away from your family and friends is very hard. Unlike most jobs, you cannot fly back home from the middle of the ocean and come back. This becomes especially difficult when you have a family or about to have one. The psychological blow of missing the birth of your child or not being able to with family in times of need is unfathomable.  

Weather - As the song goes "Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you" if only it were that easy. A swell no matter how subtle has an affect on ones sleep (Tip: Put the life-jacket under your mattress, so it creates a slope. You can't roll up). The lack of quality sleep leads to fatigue which leads to poor mental health and alertness. 

Seasickness - is the most simple mental health issue at sea to identify, yet very few people consider it as a mental health issue, and it can be so debilitating. 

Inconsistent work hours – At sea, the routine is relatively consistent. Once near land, that's where the fun begins. An unwritten rule all seafarers know is that a vessel will always anchor, enter or leave port at the most inconvenient time. As a result of this, the watches become out of sync, and someone always loses out.

There are so many more other pertinent factors. We will explore more topics (disembarkation and embarkation, Internet at sea, the pressures of paperwork and regulations, port operations and charterers pressures) in more detail. It will become evident just how mentally strong one needs to be a seafarer and more importantly, why you cannot apply the standard one size fits all approach.

All the factors above have a knock-on effect, they build up stress. When this happens, your autonomic nervous system works in overdrive, and it is detrimental to both physical and mental health.

Some of these factors are not obvious and cannot be easily spotted by a port captain or fleet manager. At Care4C, we have identified that detecting the build-up of stress in a timely fashion can help reduce its effect. With hardware and software working together, we can give an objective aid in the understanding of how to manage stress at sea as opposed to the subjective alternatives.   

In conclusion, as the opening statement suggests all of these factors that impact seafarers are can be managed. Managing mental health correctly can improve not just the individual but the whole crew making a ship a happier and safer place to be.

 (Mental health and seafarers: It’s time to talk link) http://www.gard.no/web/updates/content/28558450/mental-health-and-seafarers-its-time-to-talk

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