The topic on mental health and wellness has become a more important conversation ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Detrimental impact on mental health has been observed amongst people of different societies and cultures around the world, with safety measures changing how they live, work and play.
On 15 July 2021, SMOU with the support of Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI), collaborated with the Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union of Ukraine (MTWTU) to conduct a webinar on mental wellness for Ukrainian seafarers. The online session is part of a series of mental health webinars that SMOU is conducting with seafarers of different nationalities. The inaugural workshop happened in June when SMOU, together with the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), reached out to Filipino seafarers.
The session was attended by almost 200 seafarers from over 20 shipping companies, all gathering to learn how they can manage their own mental well-being, as well as look out for their fellow seafaring colleagues on board ships.
Special Guest Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Republic of Singapore Kateryna Zelenko stressed on the importance of the topic of mental wellness saying, “Mental health is a fundamental human right and a wise investment into the future. A healthy atmosphere on board ships is not only about one person’s well-being, but also the safety and security of the whole crew.”
She expressed her gratitude to seafarers for upholding their proud tradition of work despite the ongoing challenges from the pandemic. Acknowledging the obstacles and tough circumstances that have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic on seafarers, she thanked SMOU and MTWTU for making the webinar possible.
Ms Mary Liew welcomed participants and expressed her deep appreciation for their sacrifices and contribution as seafarers towards the global supply chain and maritime industry. She emphasised on the importance of raising awareness on mental health issues, and encouraged the attendees to look out for each other’s safety while working onboard ship.
Brother Oleg Grigoryuk, Chairman of MTWTU, also took the time to address participants and he started by reaffirming MTWTU’s partnership and solidarity with SMOU over the years. He shared the same burden as Ms Kateryna and Ms Mary Liew on the topic of mental health, and how this issue cannot be dismissed.
Encouraging seafarers to learn from the session, he said “It is really important to talk about the mental health issue because sometimes culturally, we are not ready to discuss mental health problems which may arise on board ships. But I believe that today’s session will open the door of communication between the crew members and the professional organisations that have the expertise to support and assist seafarers when there are mental difficulties.”
Ms Preeti Dubey, Founding Director of Strive High with more than 25 years or experience in the field of training and counselling provided attendees with information and handles on managing mental wellness. She explained the role of stress, and how seafarers can develop a mentally healthy workplace and establish support and response mechanisms while working on board ships. Finally, she also provided tools on how seafarers can identify and help colleagues who are struggling mentally.
Seafarers should not have to rely on their own devices to fend for their mental wellbeing. That is why Chester Quintal a Helpline Manager at the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) took the stage to share with attendees on the helplines available to them in times of mental distress. He offered the free, confidential and multilingual helpline service “SeafarerHelp”, assuring participants that support is always available for them round the clock.
The session ended off with a question and answer segment where doubts and concerns on mental health and the vaccination of seafarers were clarified. Participants gained valuable knowledge from the engaging webinar, equipped with new tools, knowledge and avenues of help to be able to work on board ships with a healthy mind.