In the run up to World Mental Health Day on 10th October, Alexander Buchmann, Managing Director, Hanseaticsoft is urging shipping companies to support the mental wellbeing of seafarers by ensuring they ‘get the basics right’ such as appropriate food, accommodation and recreation and providing good internet access so they can stay in touch with the outside world whilst at sea.
Alexander Buchmann says, “COVID-19 has had a huge impact on everyone, but seafarers really struggled spending longer stretches at sea. Some were stranded for months on end due to the restrictions and this put a strain on them mentally and added more pressure to their daily working lives.Earlier this year the Maritime Union RMT[i] highlighted the challenges faced by seafarers are compounded by being isolated from family for weeks or months at a time. Over 77% of members find themselves becoming anxious from time to time, but less than 36% have anyone to talk to onboard about mental health issues.
Key symptoms they have experienced include lack of sleep and tiredness, worrying about minor things, sweating, short temper, lack of confidence, mood swings, nausea, nervousness, over-thinking, panic attacks, heart palpitations, lack of appetite, headaches, anxiety, and depression.
The latest Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI)[ii] has also revealed a ‘steep and concerning’ drop in happiness levels for Q2 with numbers falling in every category from mental health and wellbeing to working life and family contact.
Alexander adds, “World Mental Health Day is an ideal opportunity for companies to reassess their support for mental health. This includes providing better internet access so crew can keep in touch with family and friends and access health and wellbeing apps to support good mental wellbeing.”
His views are supported by research from Inmarsat[iii]. COVID-19 shone a light on the vital role connectivity plays in crew welfare and a large percentage of bandwidth on VSAT vessels[iv] is used by the crew – to browse the web, use social media and make voice and video calls home over the internet. They say reliable connectivity, innovative technology and robust data are critical tools for sustaining good crew welfare.
Another study from the Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS), Yale University and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) looking at the effectiveness of the various maritime worker health initiatives taken by shipping highlighted that ensuring good communications between charterers and owners is crucial in improving seafarer health and welfare. Initial findings from the study showed responsible companies should challenge certain commercial charterers’ terms – such as no crew-change clauses – and ensure seafarer wellbeing is a priority.
Alexander concludes, “We recommend companies invest in technology to ensure seafarers have seamless communication with families and loved ones. Providing good internet connectivity can also enable crew to use a whole range of fitness and wellbeing apps as well as access online counselling services to provide additional support.
“This could alleviate mental health symptoms seafarers are feeling, which can in turn make them more motivated, positive and productive whilst on board. Good internet benefits shipping companies too and enables them to adopt cloud-based technology solutions. These can help with every aspect of crew management and administration, including health and wellbeing and can bring shipping fully into the digital age.”
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