What is Mental Health? Why is it important?
“Mental health is a state of being-well during which the individual realizes his/her own potential & skills, can manage the normal stresses of life, can work productively & fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution for the community”, said by World Health Organization (WHO). Mental Health directly affects how an individual thinks his feelings and his actions to cope with life. It helps determine how one handles stress, decision making and his relations with fellow individuals. Mental health problems can cause one be alienated from his peers, also it can give rise to anger issues, could cause sadness and sometimes helplessness. Poor mental health can affect the ability of the body to fight of chronic diseases also neglecting mental health for a long period can cause serious health complications. Poor mental health and stress can directly affect job performance and productivity. It also has an impact on the engagement of an individual in his work. It can cause problems in communication between co-workers.
What are the problems faced by seafarers?
When on board, away from family and friends’ seafarers work in challenging conditions and are more vulnerable to mental health issues than any other working population. The determinants of mental health disorders among then includes environmental factors, job satisfaction, workplace hazards personal health and many more. When away from land, access to mental support and confidential health care is a challenge. One recent incident in which a group of sailors were stranded in the ocean for about 15 months has gathered a lot of attention towards the mental health of seafarers. Between the COVID-19 lockdown and due to a geopolitical feud between China and Australia a group pf about 20 seafarers were stranded on the MV Antasia. Some of the crew wo had come onboard in November 2019 and were supposed to come off in the April of 2020, but couldn’t due the lockdown in many countries because of the Corona Virus pandemic. Their cargo ship was caught in a trade dispute between China and Australia. The vessel MV Antasia carried about 90000 metric tons of Australian coal worth Rs. 200crore. For a long time, the crew wasn’t told about this dispute by the company. Trade tensions between China and Australia created uncertainty whether the cargo could be offloaded. The crew and the vessel had arrived in China in August of 2020 but they stayed there till February 2021. In November 2020 it got official that China has banned coking coal, and about 72 ships like the MV Antasia from Australia carrying coal were struck in Chinese waters. During this time all the sailors were stuck on the vessel. They were provided with food and drinks by the company. The company also provided them internet and psychiatric help. But the sailors still faced many problems. They were not provided with proper medical assistance by the company the crew was not allowed to go ashore for treatment. All these things led to the development of anxiety, depression and panic. One crew member even tried to attempt suicide by cutting his wrist. Inside their cabins the crew members did meditate in order to keep their mental health intact but whenever they came out on the deck all they could see was water everywhere till the horizon which gave them a feeling of helplessness. Their mental state had become so poor that they thought that if they die here their dead bodies will reach faster to their families rather than them being stranded alive in the middle of nowhere. Also, on board there are people from different countries and cultures and one can find it difficult to connect with them as they may not have anything in common, this leads to a feeling of isolation among sea farers. One of the prominent problems is that even when help is available the stigma around it makes it difficult for one to seek help.
What steps are taken by the Industry?
The issue of mental health has come to light in recent years. Five-six years ago nobody talked about mental health and it was considered as a taboo in many places around the world. But now there has been a growing focus on mental health of seafarers due to campaigning about mental health. There has been an awakening among ship owners that good mental health can be economically beneficial. Good mental health increases the work output and fewer accidents can be caused due to reduce in human errors. In response to the growing concerns regarding mental health maritime charities, unions and few private companies have designed training and outreach programs to improve mental health of seafarers. The International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network is an international NGO and UK registered charity that aims to assists sea farers and their family members. ISWAN has developed psychological state awareness training program which is very efficient and adaptable for all seafarer ranks as well as for shore side staff who assist seafarers. There has been an increase in the number of companies providing confidential helpline numbers which offer emotional support and counselling. Existing helplines such as SeafarerHelp have been raising awareness of their support in this area. Also, the United Kingdom Chamber of Shipping has issued guidance to various shipping companies on developing a psychological state awareness policy and the UK Government 2050 people route map commits to producing mental healthcare guidelines and developing proper standardized training in the area for seafarers. Training which increases understanding of mental health will also help to reduce stigma. Training can also be beneficial in helping seafarers to recognize that a crewmate may be struggling and also provide them with the skills and confidence to start a conversation.
Yale University’s recent study into the mental health of seafarers recommends training in resilience for seafarers, particularly cadets, as a way to prevent mental health issues on board.
What are the plans for Future Generations?
First and the most important thing is to reduce the stigma around mental health. We need to stop identifying it as a taboo and start spreading awareness among people. In order to reduce the myths and stigma attached to mental health in society, the Government organizations have a key role to play so that the new generation of upcoming seafarers will be more open and understanding to the issues surrounding mental health. It is also very important to keep the confidentiality intact, this will encourage more and more individuals to seek help who fear that it would harm their image.