COVID-19: Calls to mental health and wellness helpline spike by 40%

Credit: Synergy Group

Singapore-based ship manager Synergy Group has reported that calls to their mental health and wellness helpline increased by 40% in February, in response to incoming requests for assistance relating to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Seafarers are suffering the negative effects of the coronavirus, which has so far led to restrictions being enforced by countries on vessels that have come from Chinese ports. This has stopped seafarers from taking shore leave or visitors going on board vessels.

Dr. Aparna Joshi, director of iCALL, said, “We’ve now added a 15th counsellor to ensure all seafarers and their families receive the help and support they need.”

Captain Rajesh Unni, CEO and founder of Synergy Group, added, “Seafarers are on the front line of world trade supplying the consumer necessities and commodities we all need during this pandemic. They should have all the support they need.”

iCALL for Seafarers is a free, confidential, and anonymous psychological helpline that supports sea- and shore-based maritime personnel worldwide. Established in 2018 by Synergy Group and India’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), the helpline is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week via phone, email, and the chat-based nULTA app.

Intended to address growing industry concerns around seafarer wellbeing, iCALL for Seafarers aims to reduce seafarer suicides, raise awareness of mental health and gender, and equip participants with self-help coping mechanisms for addressing their own distress and/or help them offer support to others at sea.

Since its inauguration, counsellors located at TISS in Mumbai, India, have fielded daily calls, emails, and online chats from maritime personnel and their families. All 15 counsellors who currently support distressed maritime personnel have at least a master’s degree in clinical or counselling psychology. They are trained to help with more than 20 wellness issues, including mental health, career anxiety, relationships, suicide and self-harm, substance use, and work-life concerns, Synergy Group reported.

A first-year report into the counselling conducted by iCALL for Seafarers found that the top three challenges seafarers and their families raised with counsellors were related to emotional distress, relationship issues, and work-life concerns.

Despite seafaring still being male-dominated, 17% of the calls received were made by females.