Friday, May 14, 2021

Mental Health Awareness Week Throws Up the Problems of a Life at Sea

Loneliness and Anxiety Face Seafarers
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – Maritime union RMT has called for new action to protect seafarers' mental health following a survey of its seafaring membership as part of the activities it is undertaking for Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May). The challenges faced by seafarers are compounded by the fact they are isolated from family for weeks or months at a time, in what may become an oppressive environment where isolation abounds.

Key findings from the survey reveal that over 77% of members find themselves becoming anxious from time to time, although less than 36% have anyone to talk to on board about mental health issues. Of those who have access to a telephone counselling service (and nearly 42% do not have such access), almost 72% do not have a regular point of contact, something RMT believes is very important in terms of establishing trust and confidence when discussing sensitive and personal issues.

Nearly 66% of employers do not provide any funding for counselling services ashore and the same percentage of members are unaware of any company policy on mental health. Sadly, and astoundingly, given today’s supposedly progressive attitude towards mental health issues, nearly 48% of RMT members say they have encountered hostility or ridicule in regard to mental health issues.

Key symptoms members have experienced are manifold and include lack of sleep and tiredness, worrying about minor things, sweating, short temper, lack of confidence, mood swings, nausea, nervousness, over-thinking, panic attacks, heart palpitations, lack of appetite, headaches, anxiety and depression.

In terms of what members would like their employer to do to support them, some key thoughts include awareness; listening; production of a policy; provision of more properly trained mental health first aiders; provision of courses; a positive and proactive approach in conjunction with the Union; funding for counselling, wellbeing and occupational health; more information about company policies and the production of policies where they do not exist.

Also more areas for workers to socialise after shifts, for example gyms and open outside areas; provision for more undisturbed rest; employment of more crew; reconsideration of total smoking bans; stopping pressurising staff to stick to strict scheduling. just someone to talk to, maybe via a helpline; the recognition by employers of the effects of Covid-19 on employees’ mental health; proper sick leave provision where it does not exist; and greater access to home communication.

Members have asked RMT to educate its representatives and provide courses; to consider a counselling service/telephone helpline; provide eye catching posters and literature to work with employers on the promotion of mental health support; and to negotiate on the matters above which members would like their employer to do to support them. RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said:

“This survey shows employers need to remove the stigma which still exists with regards to mental health. They need to listen, respect confidentiality, and stop treating seafarers as an afterthought and put in the resources that are needed. The challenges faced by seafarers are compounded by the fact they are isolated from family for weeks or months at a time, in what may become an oppressive environment where isolation abounds.”

Photo: Courtesy of the Mental Health Foundation.