Mental Health Check after COVID. Or are we still in it?

, ,

Since March 2020, the marine industry has had many highs and lows. From little or no business, to high levels and too often without enough staff. Staffing in Australia and indeed the world over in most industries is an ongoing major issue.

Whilst the supply of goods by sea and some services has continued throughout the pandemic, we now face staff shortages both on sea and land which makes the working conditions continue to be challenging.

Maritime safety data and research highlight a critical need for the marine industry mental health and wellbeing to be managed more effectively, to achieve better outcomes. Here at Shorlink, we take mental health as serious as safety.

Stress can lead to mental health issues. This newsletter provides information and guidance to provide business owners’ and Masters with strategies to help alleviate the effects of stress.

It also talks about the importance of educating crew about mental health, in order to create a culture on board in which crew are able to identify when their fellow crew members are experiencing poor mental health and support one another.

Educating Crew!

It is important that masters receive adequate education on the psychological impact of stress and mental health issues. Masters need to:

  • have a good knowledge of both the short and long-term consequences of stress
  • ensure crew in their charge have appropriate information and awareness
  • establish prevention and minimisation programs
  • be able to identify crew members having problems
  • initiate the necessary assistance if required—this may include masters and senior crew being instructed in mental health first aid.

Recognise the signs of possible mental health problems!

If a crew member displays any of the following behaviours, they may be experiencing mental health problems:

  • appears to withdraw, isolates themselves, or seems quieter than usual
  • appears distressed
  • agitated or irritable
  • difficulty managing work or workload
  • more argumentative, aggressive or gets into conflicts
  • confused, unusually forgetful or has
  • trouble concentrating
  • behaving in a way that is out of character.

The following are some suggestions which can be used to assist crew members suffering from mental health difficulties:

  • spend time with the person
  • offer your assistance and a listening ear, but do not intrude on that person’s privacy. Be mindful that there may sometimes be deeper problems that underlie the initial problem they mention
  • help them with any practical arrangements they require
  • do not take their emotions personally, as this is probably a part of their reaction
  • do not downplay or dismiss their problems. Do not tell them they are ‘lucky the situation isn’t worse’—they probably don’t feel lucky
  • help them to re-establish a normal schedule as quickly as possible. If possible, include them in the activities of others
  • encourage them to be active and involved
  • encourage them to look at what they can manage, rather than just thinking about what they want to avoid.

Managing crew reactions!

After a mental health-related or other stressful event, crew members are often very sensitive to:

  • how others react to them
  • how others may describe the event and the role of the crew member involved,
  • particularly in terms of their reactions to their colleagues.

The extent to which the work/social network validates or invalidates the experience has a very important effect upon the crew members psychological adaptation or recovery.

If all crew are aware of the stressors and their potential impact, the experience of crew members having a mental health issue is more likely to be recognised and validated. If masters are aware of the principles of mental health first aid, crew are more likely to receive appropriate support following mental health issues.

Crews with low morale typically exhibit the highest risk for psychological injuries. This is because strong morale acts as a buffer or protective layer against the effects of mental health issues and other stressors.

This should be factored into decisions that may affect the management of mental health risk.

At regular intervals, the master should schedule the following:

  • An informal debrief—this provides crew with the ability to say how they are going and allows for the reiteration of mental health information and awareness
  • recognition by a valued authority— have someone, like the master, acknowledge the crew and the efforts they have made
  • follow up contact with crew members who may have been identified as likely to suffer mental health issues to see how they are travelling.

Owners and operators need to ensure that the conditions in which their crew work and live do not exacerbate mental health problems.

A crew members ability to access mental health services at sea is limited, hence the incorporation of strategies for mental health interventions is an essential service.


Shorlink’s Recommendation

Training staff, from Master to deckhands on mental health first aid is imperative to ensure the business is providing a healthy working environment.

Breaking down the stigma, both on board and ashore, regarding mental health issues. It should be no different than any other injury or illness.

Be alert for potential signs of mental health issues among crew members.

Proactively manage cases of mental health issues, including repatriation if appropriate.

Maintain a fair, just and supportive crew environment, as part of a positive safety culture. Resource poor environment is even more important.

Specific attention is needed in higher risk periods of the work-life cycle, such as during periods of contract extension, operating season and inability to take shore leave.


Tip

It all starts from the top down – both with attitude and education!

Emphasis should be given to training for mental health awareness and resilience. Owners and Masters should be trained in mental health first aid.

If you have any questions, or require assistance with training, please contact our office.

This is important! Please do not hesitate to share this with colleagues, bosses, friends and family.