Mind over machoism: Wilhelmsen Ship Management's mental health awareness campaign on board
Christina Cheh , Vice President - Risk Management & Systems
Mental breakdowns could happen to seafarers especially in conditions where they work in isolation at sea. There are huge risks involved when seafarers are faced with the possibility of unwanted reactions, unexpected actions, or even inaction that would impact other people, environment and property.
Mental health is very important and WSM aims to break the taboo on this subject. To begin with, WSM’s initial release of the mental wellbeing campaign will focus on three areas: stress, sleep and overall psychological health of the seafarers.
Stress at work
Seafarers face unique working conditions which can put them under a lot of stress with fewer opportunities for relief than would be likely to found on land.
Stress factors include:
- Lack of communication
- Physical demands
- Social Isolation
- Multicultural differences
WSM has made available self-help resources to assist seafarers and their fellow crew members identify their stress points and ways to address the issue. Stress is one of the most common mental vulnerability that can lead to lack of sleep.
Sleepless in the seas
Our body’s reaction to stress may affect our sleeping patterns. An unrested mind and body could result in fatigue and poor work performance. For seafarers, this deteriorated condition is discouraged as they are expected to be vigilant when serving at sea.
Sleeplessness can also be caused by:
- Increased use of digital devices
- Eating too spicy or heavy foods before bed
- Drinking too much caffeinated beverages
- Irregular sleeping time
- Unconducive sleeping conditions
WSM encourages seafarers to incorporate exercise and relaxing activities like reading, listening to music and meditating to ease into a rested state before bedtime.
Psychological wellbeing for better state of mind
Every member on board a vessel must work together to actively enhance the living and working conditions on board; and that includes social activities among crew.
A balanced psychological wellbeing includes a good mix of:
- Positive relationships with crew
- Positive emotions with people and work
- Engagement in activities both socially and professionally
- Finding accomplishment in any goals and ambitions
- Finding joy by through meaningful and purposeful activities
WSM sets foundation to build mental health awareness on board
Understandably, professional consultants cannot be 24/7 on board to monitor, identify and address the crews’ mental health. WSM is taking the proactive way by launching the hazard watch campaign to promote mental health awareness on all managed vessels.
Seafarers can find self-help resources installed in onboard computers and informative posters to serve as guidance and reminders on improving mental wellbeing.
The resources may help seafarers recognize signs of mental health problems and how to find appropriate shore support when needed.
The Master and selected crew would undergo basic training to act as “mediators” or “counselors” but by no means offer any kind of professional advice. The Master would report any incidences to their respective designated person ashore (DPA) who may seek professional advice or assistance if required.
Mental health should not be taken lightly and any negative shift in behavioral patterns and emotions can pose safety risks to both crew and vessel. The biggest hurdle today is to create an open culture on board and erase the stigma behind mental health issues.
The aim for the mental awareness hazard watch campaign is to generate awareness, compassion and support for one another. With a Health & Safety Policy in place, guided by industry bodies, WSM is committed to the health and welfare of all seafarers on board managed vessels.