The 1st Global Conference for Seafarer Mental Health and Wellbeing focused on solutions and strategies to improve seafarer mental health and wellbeing.
Mental health and wellbeing have not always had the focus they deserve, particularly when it comes to seafarers and the wider marine industry.
Which is why the conference (25-26 May), hosted by the IMarEST and made possible by sponsorship from Lloyd's Register, came just at the right time. With the global pandemic making things so much harder, the question has to be how we can make a real, positive difference to the lives of those who work at sea.
We know there is a huge problem – how can we best support the psychological wellbeing of employees, longer-term?
Sessions focused on interventions and best practice implementation, with input from leaders, mental health experts and organisations.
We must protect human rights at sea
David Hammond, CEO, Human Rights at Sea, talked of the impacts of when welfare and mental health safeguards fail. He highlighted the need for a diligent approach to human rights when – despite current directives –some seafarers are, in worst case scenarios, victims of appalling modern slavery.
The roll-call of shame cited by David Hammond included 98 cases of abandonment in 2020, wages being withheld, debt bondage and vindictive behaviours by owners, manning agents and flag States – behaviours and situations which badly affect mental health and underscore the need for effective action.
Seafarers are companies’ most valuable assets
28% of seafarers reported depression and a worrying 20% had suicidal thoughts, reported Dr Pennie Blackburn, citing recent Yale University research.
We cannot put this in a “too difficult” to tackle category – seafarers are companies’ most valuable assets, and they need to commit to supporting them right from the top board level, through to leaders and other managers. Simple steps can make a big difference.
When it comes to mental health, she added, “prevention is always better than the cure”.
We need agreed standards
Lysanne Wilson spoke on behalf of MCG about their Seafarers’ Mental Health and Wellbeing Awareness Training Standard which was published in July last year by the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB). The standard was written by experts from the maritime and education sectors in response to increasing reports of mental health issues amongst seafarers and the large amount of training that was coming onto the market as a result.
The MCG Standard is the only training standard that is bespoke to seafarers and has received widespread endorsement from academics, trainers and industry alike.
A culture of care = fewer accidents
Shell is one company which has spent the best part of the last decade building its evidence-based programme to support resilience, wellbeing and mental health.
Shell has more than 2,000 floating assets at any one time and Danielle Young talked of the great strides her company has made – learnings which Shell is keen to share with others through its free, industry-wide website and app which it launched in 2020, and an easy to use framework for companies to follow.
She emphasised that a culture of care also results in “fewer accidents, incidents and adverse events”.
New Mental Health SIG launched
Such is the intense interest in this area – and this event – that the IMarEST has set up a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Special Interest Group. Members can now join to keep up to date with the latest developments in mental health.