‘Crew during COVID’ video series launched to support seafarers’ mental health

A crew member wearing a protective suit as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. Credit: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A series of short videos, delivered by experts in the fields of mindfulness, psychology, and organisational and health resilience, has been launched to provide tips to those working at sea during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ‘Crew during COVID’ campaign encourages seafarers to take three minutes per day to access short videos for the improvement of their mental wellbeing. Topics covered during the videos include the importance of mental and physical self-care, breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health, and meditation.

The videos are delivered by a range of experts, including clinical psychologist Dr Pennie Blackburn, mental health nurse Gill Allen, organisational and health resilience leader Amber Branny, and other mindfulness coaches.

Penny Thomas, maritime communications specialist, said, “Over the last few months I’ve been following the plight of seafarers unable to leave their ships due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Mental health on board is an ongoing issue and restrictions surrounding crew changes have made the situation far worse.”

She explained that the videos aim to give crew “small pieces of useful information and exercises” to help support good mental health on board during these difficult times. “But more than that, I hope it sends a message to seafarers that there are people on shore who recognise and respect the work they do and are aware of their situation,” she added.

One of the experts featured in the videos, Branny, said, “Mental resiliency is the ability to protect ourselves from, and bounce back from, stressful situations. Being stuck on board ship indefinitely, or not knowing when you can work aboard and start financially supporting your family again, is a hugely stressful situation to be in. I believe seafarers need support and to be reminded that it really is OK not to be OK. And that is where I believe the videos can be of value. They offer an opportunity to check in with yourself to see how you are doing, and if you need more support, where to go to get it.”

Branny said she believes that an extraordinary amount of resilience that extends beyond normal levels of resiliency is being demanded of seafarers right now, stressing the importance of the campaign to help crew cope under the current circumstances. “Depending on normal levels of resiliency may not be enough to get a person through. I would like to suggest to all seafarers, it’s time to work on building up mental resiliency reserves,” she said. “It may not be for everyone but at least we are giving them the option. If they can take care of their mental health throughout this ordeal, it will be beneficial in the long run. Talk to fellow crew mates, have a routine to speak with family and friends, and reach out to seafarers’ welfare organisations.”

Allen, a mental health nurse working in the UK National Health Service, said that while the videos act as a reminder for seafarers to look after their mental health, if they are struggling they should always pick up the phone to speak to one of the many welfare organisations available.

She said, “If a person is struggling to cope, feels beyond help, or that things are getting a bit too much, or if they just need to talk, I would urge them to reach out and contact one of the many welfare organisations that are set up to support seafarers. Also, do not underestimate the value of talking things through with your fellow crew mates, and make sure you stay in contact with your friends and family as much as you can, especially during these particularly tough times.”

Thomas, who is leading the campaign, confirmed that while the current videos are focussed on seafarers, there are plans to release further videos that offer support to seafarers’ loved ones and family members. “I’ve spoken with a couple of seafarers’ welfare organisations who have both said that support for those on shore – be they the family of those at sea, or seafarers waiting to join ship – is also vital at the present time,” she said. “That said, the information offered in the current videos may be useful to anyone wishing to check in on their mental wellbeing.”

Four videos are available now on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.