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Caring for Crew: Mental Health on Land and At Sea

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In a 2019 study, 25% of seafarers had scores suggesting depression, 17% of seafarers were defined as seafarers with anxiety, and 20% of seafarers surveyed had suicidal ideation over the two weeks before taking the survey.

How do you minimize the effect of stress caused by months away from home? Should crew mental health be a priority even when they are on shore leave? After the arduous task of getting crew home in a pandemic, how do you mentally prepare them to return to work onboard?

These are just some of the questions discussed last Friday during the Seatrade Cruise Talks live webinar, Caring for Crew: Mental Health on Land and At Sea (sponsored by Inmarsat). Now, to continue the conversation, our panelists are sharing their own mental health best practices with us.

1. How do you unwind after a long day of work? 

Personally, I park whatever is outstanding before I finish. We all have ongoing time pressure issues and things due, but if you don't put them in context and mentally ensure they are not going to be on your mind all night, you can't relax or unwind. It helps create a demarcation between work and after-work life.

Peter Broadhurst, Senior Vice President, Inmarsat

Mindfulness and time for stillness. This may be in the form of a good book, supporting talks with family or friends, some tea we enjoy by being in the moment with our thoughts and our senses, or merely enjoying some physical exercises or meditation/prayer. 

Charles Watkins, Founder, Mental Health Support Solutions

Unwind and activate your Self-Care Plan:

This is your unique chart map of what you can do to care for yourself. These are tools that you have access to onboard. Having a plan can make you feel more in control and give you joy doing the things that make you happy and well. It's your personal strategy to help you stay on course. Activate your plan by:

Create Make a list of the areas of your life into categories that are important to you. These may be social, spiritual, physical, mental wellbeing, etc. Write down activities under these categories that contribute to your wellbeing and feeling well.

Barriers – Think about any obstacles or challenges you might see to get these done and change them to what you can do. If certain things don't work because of where you are in the world or the ship you are on, change it around to what you think can work in your environment.

Sharing – You can share this plan with someone on board you feel comfortable with, a "go-to" person you know and trust, or with family or loved ones at home to help support you. If possible, create an onboard self-care group or community to discuss similar interests.

Pam Kern, MS, LMSW, Former Seafarer/Wife of a Seafarer/Mental Health Professional, Owner Kern and Co., LLC

2. What's one thing seafarers should know about mental health as they prepare for months away from home?

Seafarers should not be afraid to talk about mental health and wellbeing. Communication is essential to bring normality to the subject. They will not be the only seafarer with concerns and will have low and high points through their time away from home like all the others. Together mental health will be supported better than in isolation.

Peter Broadhurst, Senior Vice President, Inmarsat

Seafarers can stay resilient by understanding mental hygiene techniques and how to practice them even in stressful times. 

Charles Watkins, Founder, Mental Health Support Solutions

As a former seafarer and mental health professional, the one thing seafarers should know is that mental health is a natural extension of your overall health. It is okay not to feel okay at times - and it is okay to ask for help.

Pam Kern, MS, LMSW, Former Seafarer/Wife of a Seafarer/Mental Health Professional, Owner Kern and Co., LLC

The webinar will be available to watch in early 2021. 

Learn more from our panelists about ways to improve the mental health of seafarers.

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