Promoting mental health and wellbeing at sea

Promoting mental health and wellbeing at sea
Randhir S Mahadik
General Manager and Head of FLEET Care
Published 13 Jan 2023

Mental health – while widely acknowledged as a very important element in overall well-being and health – is also one that can be overlooked by seafarers when working in busy roles onboard.

Among the seafarer community, stigma, prejudice, stereotypes and set mindsets about masculinity can often come in the way of seeking help.

At FLEET, we aim to promote mental wellbeing, prevent incidences of mental illness and support awareness-raising and destigmatisation of mental health concerns.

We do this by tackling workplace factors that may negatively affect mental wellbeing, while encouraging our crew to develop effective skills to promote their mental wellbeing and manage mental health challenges effectively.

To support this, we have two in-house Clinical Psychologists who cater exclusively to seafarers’ mental wellbeing: Ms Divya Nair and Ms Manasi Hindlekar. They constantly review and recommend evidence-based updates for our approach to supporting our seafarers, including counselling, training programs and other infographics and practical tools to learn from and use.

At FLEET, we provide Psychological First Aid (PFA) and Wellness at Sea training programmes to ensure our seafarers are equipped to understand the importance of mental health at sea. This aims to help our crew identify early warning signs of any of their colleagues experiencing mental health challenges onboard and be able to act effectively in crisis situations. To date, we have trained more than 1,200 seafarers among our senior ranks and over 450 cadets, with more being trained each month.

In collaboration with Sailor Society, we have also set up a technology-assisted counselling helpline which provides counselling services via telephone, email, and chat messaging. This helpline is available to our seafarers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in multiple languages.

When there are particular mental health concerns for individuals onboard vessels, Ms Nair and Ms Hindlekar provide psychological support intervention and liaise with Radio Medical Advice (RMA) service providers and other medical professionals to provide further assistance as needed.

Tips on managing mental health at sea

by Divya Nair, Clinical Psychologist, FLEET Care

During life at sea, with continuous and varied stressors, looking after yourself – in other words, practicing self-care – should be a key priority.

Remember DRES: Diet, Relaxation, Exercise, Sleep

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol prior to sleep. Remember to drink water and keep yourself hydrated.
  • Follow simple techniques like planning and prioritising to manage periods of intense workload.
  • Short power naps, especially while working in shifts, will help combat sleep deprivation.
  • Remember to pace yourself – don’t use up all your energy in one go. Take small breaks. Catch your breath.
  • Yoga has been proven to combat fatigue. Just 15 mins of yoga daily can help you feel refreshed and give an energy boost.
  • Avoid comparison to others. Focus on your own self growth. You can decide your speed of growth.

Practicing self-care

Self-care is not a one-time event, and results can’t be achieved within just a day or so. A consistent self-care practice leads to a healthier lifestyle. There are many types of self-care, including:

  • Physical self-care, such as healthy sleep habits, adopting an exercise routine you can stick with, and choosing healthy and nourishing foods.
  • Emotional self-care, such as positive self-talk, creating boundaries, giving yourself permission to take a pause, talking it out with crew members, socialising and connecting with family/friends.
  • Spiritual self-care, such as meditating, incorporating regular acts of kindness into your day, or keeping a gratitude journal.

Benefits of self-care

  • Builds resilience
  • Promotes better relationships with others
  • Enhances self-esteem and self confidence
  • Increases your ability to set and achieve realistic goals
  • Lessens burnout and stress
  • Promotes overall good health

We recommend considering creating a personal self-care plan. Your self-care plan should be tailored to your life and your needs. It needs to be something created by you, for you.

When you’re caring for all aspects of yourself, you’ll find that you are able to operate more effectively and efficiently.

As you are building your self-care plan, the following steps can be helpful: 

·  Assess your needs Make a list of the different parts of your life and major activities that you engage in each day.
·  Consider your stressors Think about the aspects of these areas that cause stress – and consider some ways you might address that stress.
·  Devise self-care strategies Think about some activities that you can do that will help you feel better in each of these areas of your life.
·  Plan for challenges When you discover that you’re neglecting a certain aspect of your life, create a plan for change
·  Take small steps You don’t have to tackle everything all at once.

Identify one small step you can take to begin caring for yourself better.

·  Schedule time to focus on your needs Even when you feel like you don’t have time to squeeze in one more thing, make self-care a priority.