Mental health: it’s time to walk the walk

Shipping has had some important conversations on crew mental health but it is time to do more to tackle the issue, writes Amanda Hastings, board trustee, Human Rights at Sea

Amanda Hastings, board trustee, Human Rights at Sea. Credit: HRAS

Over the past 18 months, mental health has been the topic du jour. Although talking about it raises awareness and reduces stigma, at what point are we going to start doing something?

Instead of reacting when serious incidents arise, we need to be proactive and holistic in our approach and involve the entire industry.

Training institutions need to acknowledge shortcomings within their training programmes and adapt to the new generation of cadets. Generation Z (those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s) are entering the workplace and have lived an online life for many of their formative years. Smartphones are common and instant access to information is expected.

Incorporating resilience training into the core curriculum to properly prepare cadets would not go amiss. This should include training in awareness of mental wellbeing, social connections in multicultural environments, and providing healthy coping mechanisms for life on board.

Shipowners and managers need to make sure their crews on board have the same access to support as shore-side employees. There are low-cost solutions out there that require little effort to roll-out to crew but could create positive change.

Introducing a programme such as Sailors’ Society Wellness at Sea is an inexpensive starting point. Officers could be put through a ‘train the trainer’ programme, which could then be replicated on board. This need not take up a lot of time on board, but regularly refreshing a crew’s understanding could have a huge impact.

There are a lot of free resources available to crew that can be easily made available to them. These include guides such as Human Rights at Sea’s Remaining Resilient after Traumatic Events, which is available in English and Tagalog, and International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network’s SeafarerHelp.

These are just a few ideas and are in no way exhaustive, but they do highlight that programmes can be easily and cheaply adopted.

Such programmes would not only improve crew wellbeing and safety, but could also lead to a reduction in claims exposure – that would ensure a win-win situation all round.