Clinical psychologist Charles Watkins of Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS) reveals some of the signs that a fellow crew member is struggling with mental health
The pressure on individuals in the maritime industry, both ashore and onboard, has always been unique and immense.
Long periods away from families and loved ones, a harsh and demanding environment, ever-increasing levels of complexity in operations, technology, digitalisation, regulation, compliance and geopolitics – all take their toll.
The additional pressure of Covid-19 and the crew change crisis is leaving people, understandably, struggling with their mental health.
What to look for
Everyone is different, which means we all behave differently when under pressure, stressed, anxious, depressed or grieving. However, there are basic behavioural traits which can sometimes help you to identify if someone's struggling or needs an attentive ear and support:
• unusual shifts in behaviour
• atypical presentation
• sleep deprivation or sleeping a lot more than usual
• emotional distance
• mistakes and/or accidents at work
Similarly, if someone starts to withdraw and isolate themselves, it is an indication that they may be battling with some internal issues which need addressing.
It means a lot to most people who are suffering when they see that others actually care about how they are doing. This offers immense emotional support and can be a huge relief.
How to help
If you notice someone's starting to withdraw from all group activities, then it's important to reach out to that person. It means a lot to most people who are suffering when they see that others actually care about how they are doing. This offers immense emotional support and can be a huge relief.
In one of our cases, a seafarer was talking to his friend for five weeks until he reached out to us for advice on how best to continue his support. In this case, we were able to encourage him to continue until the seafarer finished his contract; this simple support and taking the time to have conversations helped his friend get over a mild depressive episode. Never underestimate the importance of kindness. Simple interactions matter a lot.
Building positive connections
Another catalyst for crew suffering from mental health concerns is an environment that allows bullying and harassment to continue silently. Behaviour that contributes to humiliation, ridicule, intimidation, and violation of an individual's dignity rapidly decreases mental health and wellbeing. On board vessels, it is often about poor social connection, which contributes to an environment where mental health issues go unnoticed.
It is important to ensure that onboard connectivity among the crew is strengthened. A good environment onboard really helps people to recognise tell-tale signs that crew mates are suffering. A sociable atmosphere allows them to communicate more frequently with each other and build relationships, which allows seafarers to notice changes in others earlier.
We are social beings and need that communication to feel like we are part of the team, which makes us feel valued, noticed, included and important.