Every day we wake up to our life struggles and realities. We seek help when needed, as our era has become more aware of mental health and the stigma surrounding it. Mental Health is “a state of emotional, psychological, and social well-being” as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). We seek support for the different levels of difficulties we may face at any point in our lives. The support could be from family, friends, or a professional whom we trust. But what if, in these times, we could not find anyone to talk to? Maybe without any internet for days too? This could be a typical situation for a seafarer in the middle of a grand ocean.
A seafarer is “a person who regularly travels by sea; a sailor.” This could be fishers, captains, masters, navigators, or even cooks working on a vessel, or anyone on a voyage by sea. In the Maldives, it is not surprising that everyone knows at least one seafarer given that 90% of our nation comprises the ocean.
Struggles at Sea
What could be a struggle for a seafarer who earns a bankable salary, escapes the burden of paying rent in the city, and lives a dream life at sea? Below is a list of some stressors seafarers face, according to the International Chambers for Shipping.
- Trauma from an accident
- Spending time away from home and family
- Getting news of the death of a family member or a close friend
- Sleep deprivation
- Barriers to repatriation
- A stressful working environment or no work
- Concerns about getting fired from job
- Social exclusion
- Bullying or harassment at work
- Having to perform a task without sufficient training
- Travel restrictions or lack of autonomy
These are similar to the issues faced by land dwellers as well; seafarers can go days without access to the internet, thus creating a communication barrier which could last for days. Of course, there are safety standards for seafarers aboard vessels, which provides health protection and some welfare measures, but mental health tends to be a grey area which may not be diagnosed at the sea.
“We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty”- A beautiful metaphorical quote by Gilbert K. Chesterton.
Research conducted by the International Marine University shows that the most effective support for seafarers to be happy was to let them communicate with their families at home. In addition, for a happy life, a happy work environment and a supportive team of coworkers is also vital. Crew members who can be there as friends and family, shouldering and uplifting each other through their hard times can be exceptionally helpful. It is fascinating how found families form and make life at sea enjoyable, not just bearable. In large vessels, crew families can include individuals from several different nationalities.
How could you tell if a coworker is having a hard time, and then, what could you do if you see them having a hard time?
These are signs you might notice from your fellow seafarer when they go through a hard time;
- Long-lasting sadness or change in mood
- Choosing to be alone and loss of interest in things
- Change in personality, attitude, or usual behaviour
- Having experienced a recent trauma
- Feeling lightheaded and dizzy
- Headaches, chest pains, or loss of appetite
How can you help? These are some things you could do for yourself or to help someone who appears to be struggling with their mental health;
- Ask how they are, if they say they are “fine”, ask again
- Maintain eye contact and listen to them, show that you care
- Ask open questions which require a broader response than “yes” or “no”.
- Try to keep them company rather than leaving them alone
- Connect work with a sense of achievement
- Try to create a meaningful relationship with crew members
In addition to the support from the crew, seafarers can also reach out to organisations which provide support for mental health and welfare. Below are some of the organisations you can reach out to which have easily accessible mobile apps.
The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN)
an international maritime charity which works to improve the lives of seafarers. https://www.seafarerswelfare.org/
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), an international organisation which helps seafarers.
Furthermore, you can also reach out to Maldivian mental health service providers for online sessions, or a face-to-face consultation at the following clinics:
- Society for Health Education (SHE)
M. Kulunu Vehi, Buruzu Magu, Male’
T: 3318804, 7976325
- Maldives Institute of Psychological Services, Training and Research (MIPSTAR)
Ma. Kinaara House, Iskandharu Magu, Male’
- Institute of Mental Well-Being
Ma Noomas (1st Floor), Chaandhaneemagu, Male’
T: 3337892, 7897892
- Institute Counselling and Psychotherapy
H. Haifa, Bodufungandu Magu, Male’
T: 7978802, 3338802. Fax: 3338803.
E: Info@icp.mv, Website: www.icp.mv
- Azmi-Naeem Medical & Diagnostic Centre (AMDC)
M. Misuru-ruvaage, Shariuvarudhee, Malé
T: 3325979, Fax: 3325978
E: email@example.com, Website: http://amdc.com.mv
- Thibaa Psychology
M. Flamingo, 3rd Floor, Majeedhee Magu, Male
T: 3337030, 7567030
While the outside world sees seafarers doing amazing work, life at sea still comes with its own challenges, inconveniences, and risks. It is important to seek help when needed and prioritise your happiness to have a meaningful, happy life at sea.