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A Call For Action On Mental Health At Sea

The pandemic brought to light the essential workers keeping our world turning. Yet some essential workers were out of sight, out of mind, and we need to understand the level at which mental health at sea is very important and the need to offer solutions and support and take action to help struggling seafarers.

More than 1.4 million seafarers on the world’s waterway deliver supplies such as food, medical supplies, and fuels across the globe. According to the figure from the International Chamber of Shipping, when the pandemic struck, countries closed their borders, and up to 400,000 people were trapped at sea.  Although things improved, around 200,000 seafarers are still affected by the crew change crisis as governments reintroduced border controls and travel restrictions to curb COVID-19 variants.

There’s a push for seafarers to be recognized as key workers to allow them free movement and ensure they are prioritized for the vaccination; there is also concern about the mental health impacts of the past year on seafarers who were far away from home and stranded for more than 12 months and often without pay or future job security.  Cases of mental stress, hunger strikes, conflict, and suicide didn’t come as a surprise.

Clinical psychologist Charles Watkins said, “shore leave is a big source of being able to replenish energy,” and it’s also said by captain Stavrakakis that,

“It’s clear the seafarer workplace is unique. Workers are isolated, they stay onboard for months, may suffer from disrupted sleep and lack of exercise.”

Norman Schmiedl, Group Director of crewing at Columbia ship management, said crews tend to be male-dominated, contributing to reluctance to open up about mental health. Columbia has been working with MHSS, which promotes a holistic approach to mental health, which advises seafarers to stay in touch with friends and family, stay connected with colleagues, and engages in social events such as table tennis, basketball, good hygiene, and good sleep.

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