Many tens of thousands of crew are still stuck at sea, far from home, with a high level of uncertainty.
Maritime Assistance Program
Healthcare provider Vikand created its Maritime Assistance Program (MAP) to provide mental wellness support to officers, staff and crew experiencing anxiety, stress or depression, with access to a shoreside support team that includes maritime-specialized psychologists.
'MAP is really important for crew and officers today,' said Peter Hult, CEO and president, Vikand. 'The duress these guys have been under the past months has been extraordinary.'
With many port states blocking ships, legions of seafarers are captive as lines scramble to arrange their repatriation. Some crew have been self-isolating or in lengthy quarantines on near-empty vessels. Many had to care for sick passengers, and some became ill themselves. Some experienced the loss of guests, colleagues and friends.
'When you work on a ship, the crew become your family. It's a really traumatic situation when anyone dies,' Hult said.
'Probably the worst they've ever been through'
All of this is a recipe for fear, anxiety and depression.
'This is probably the worst they've ever been through,' Hult said. 'Just giving them the option of someone to call can give them enough relief to make it through the day.'
MAP is an employee assistance program that was established before COVID-19. According to Hult, the crisis just underscores the need for having a structure like this in place.
It offers emotional support and counseling 24/7, confidentiality, access to professional maritime psychologists and follow-up services. It also trains supervisors to see when someone needs mental wellness support before things get out of hand.
'Our approach is let's take care of it at the onset, not when somebody is standing at the rail,' Hult said. 'We have a very experienced pool of people who understand the maritime environment.' They know seafarers work long hours and live in compact, often shared, accommodations. They're attuned to their regular, lengthy separations from family and friends.
Crew get information about MAP during their embarkation orientation. When in need, they can call a hotline to a shoreside nurse with maritime experience. Just having that shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to and let off steam, often solves the problem, Hult said. But there's a protocol for immediately referring more serious issues to a psychologist.
Marine Profile maritime psychologists
Vikand uses the maritime psychologists at Marine Profile, a Swedish company that provides mental wellness screening to clients including Carnival Corp.'s CSMART training center.
MAP encourages communication and awareness of mental wellness and helps employees understand and identify warning signs so they can experience a more positive work and personal life by addressing personal, professional, financial, emotional, grief or substance abuse issues.
The program's tagline is WELL ('Well employees love life.')
'This is the most gratifying project we're part of,' Hult said.