Seafarer Mental Health; Webinar Seminar on the occasion of ‘World mental Health Day’ held on 10.10.2020

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17 Oct. 2020.

Dear all members of BD Mariners- google group,

There was a Webinar Seminar on the occasion of ‘World mental Health Day’ on 10.10.2020, on the condition of Seafarers.

It was hosted by Capt. Raunkul Islam, from S’pore and had the following speakers/discucionts/participents :

 a) Capt. Anam –  President, BMMOA

 b) Ashraf Ibn Noor – President Bangobadhu Nou-Parishad

 c) Dr. Asif Altaf – Representative of ITF

 d) Md. Zahiruddin, Prof. of Dhaka University, Psychology Dept.

 e) Shakawat Hossain – General Secretary, BMMOA.

My dicussions and points have been compilled and is attached for public viewing and comment.

However, I should mention that BMMOA was working on it and promised to start a ‘virtual help line’ on the issue from next month.

I did suggest a few points on their benevolent effort.

The idea is to let seafarers undersatnd that it has become a very serious issue and we need to educate as well as prepare ourselve.

With warm regards to all.

Ashraf Noor

Seafarer Mental Health : Recovery through Training

Image courtesy Sailors’ Society

One of our batch mate and friend Late Faqruddin Ahmed (5/N), a very sensitive, cordial and helpful person, who used to write poetry, became victim of Schizophrenia in his early sea carrier, had to leave sea and died in solicitude (One can find more details about him from JMAAA- present BMAAA web site). Similar case, but to a much lesser degree had taken place to the 11/N Capt. Abu Zaffar (made well known as “Abuja” through book ‘Nunki Ekti Tarar Nam’ of his batch mate Capt. Zamman)

These happened longtime back, when the sea job had a lesser degree of intense pressure, than today’s scenario.

In 2016, one of the Yael University study on mental condition of seafarers, found normal US Suicide rate at 1.6%, where as it is more than 3 times for seafarers and 25% of them suffer from depression. Their research also revealed that more than a quarter of seafarers showed signs of depression, with one in 50 confirming that they felt depressed every day.

IMO study finds similar result when compared between shore based workers with seafarers, i.e. 3 times more suicide rate among seafarers.

Nearly six per cent of deaths at sea are attributable to suicide.

In 2019, the study prompted Sailors’ Society to call on American shipping companies to ensure that,  the seafarers receive “wellness training” to prepare them for life at sea, as a quarter of the seafarers suffer from depression.

The reason for this mental health condition are actually associated with :

  1. Long contracts and busy schedules
  2. Non-existence of shore leave, to keep-up with the commercial schedule of the vessels
  3. Non-existence of social life which is  in reality a ‘Life in Isolation’ and  
  4. Long hours associated with high stress, fatigue as well as concern for financial security

are associated with sea life.

These are the main contributor of the mental health situation of today.

Depression and anxiety is a crippling illness and is associated with long contract, high stress and lonely job situation at sea.

EURONAV states that Mental and emotional well-being are often ignored, but is one of the attributor to the accidents and injury at sea, and is becoming a common phenomenon.

Again another survey by Futernautics revealed that 46% of seafarers believed increased access to new crew communications technologies has reduced social interaction on board between crew members. This is why probably the ‘smoke room’ is empty now a days.

The maritime industry is a very high pressure industry and it’s very easy for people to start getting affected’ as stated by Capt. Thomas, who survived mental illness after treatment. He also says, if the officers are aware of mental illness, i.e. they know what to look out for, the signs and symptoms and what could be done, then they can offer help.

The Sailors’ Society considers ‘wellness’, as the well-being of the whole person. Their approach is that Seafarers need to think about their own ‘wellness’ which encompasses five key areas of life: social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual.

Wellness doesn’t just refer to a person’s physical health only, but it is their relationships and emotions to their family, loved one, colleagues as well as finances.

When the seafarers take control of their life, in each of these areas of their lives, the Sea-life can empower them to make a positive impact on their health and well-being as a whole.

When seafarers go through courses and training in group, to share their feelings, they are more effectively in in control of their own well-being.  The training on mental health and its condition, not only arms the seafarers, how to handle themselves, but also develop the skills to identify colleague who need help and support.

Good crew welfare is essential to the effective running of a ship and so mental healthiness a vital component of effective maritime business.  That’s why specifically designed coaching programme is very essential to reflect the needs of seafarers and their employers.

However, there is a lack of general understanding at the management level on sea farers’ and their families’ mental health issue as a whole, and especially it more so for Bangladeshi seafarers.

Again, Bangladeshi seafarers are not aware of the reality and gravity of the problem, so no action is in the horizon.

Bangladeshi Seafarers are not even aware that, there is “Wellness at sea Mobile App” already developed and in use by a number of NGOs working with the seafarers mental health/wellness issues.   These apps are ‘Android and IOS compatible’.

Though technology has made us lonely, however, it can also be used innovatively to reduce the loneliness created by the technology.  But again, technology is not the complete solution.

We have to remember that ‘Personal Touch cannot be automated’, and this is most important tool to heal mental health issues.

The ship-owners need to accept that such an issue exit and the situation can only be dealt-with when the solutions can be thought, out of the box format.

It is now time for Bangladeshi Seafarers and Owners to acknowledge the problem first and then

find solutions, that is, what is actually needed and ways of remedy.

‘Treatment of mental illness is a Team Work’, where the family, the co-workers and society plays most vital roll apart from the doctor; is the opinion of most experts in the field.

Today’s world is a fast moving, ever changing complex environment, with the high demand at work, where family and life seemingly more challenging than ever. This normally take its toll on even the most resilient of individuals.   And we all need support sometimes.

One in three people will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their lives and even a small initiatives shall have a long impact towards the recovery.

There is no quick fix or sticking plaster for mental health problems. Looking after our mental health should form a part of everyone’s daily self-care.

As mentioned, sea takes its toll on the seafarers at a much higher rate than the shore, so it is essential that all seafarers, be it crew or officers, need to go through a course on ‘Mental health and its remedy’ for the sake of their own self and families wellbeing as well for their colleagues.

These conditions, increasingly pushes the seafarers to the vulnerability of mental health, and the issues has come into the notice of the P&I Club Insurers, which appears to be an encouraging sign.

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