Mental health at sea is the elephant in the room. Nobody actually wants to bring up problems like isolation or anxiety. However, these are existent issues that affect many and there is a need to start addressing them before it becomes a serious problem.
On 17 September 2021, SMOU, with the support of Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI), collaborated with The Maritime Union of India (MUI) to conduct a webinar on mental wellness for Indian seafarers. As part of a series of mental health webinars that SMOU is conducting with seafarers of different nationalities, this online session was conducted to raise awareness and educate the Indian seafarers on bettering their mental wellness at sea. The previous sessions were conducted with Filipinos and Ukrainian seafarers who come from major seafarer supplying nations.
The session was attended by more than 400 seafarers from over 18 CBA companies., Amongst the attendees was a group of 31 freshly graduated seafarers from the Tolani Maritime Institute who have just attained their Certificate of Competency and were ready to embark on their first voyage as officers. Seafarers on board PCL / PACC ships also tuned in from their vessels which were fitted with high bandwidth internet onboard; this set-up has been done up to allow seafarers to attend training and webinars out at sea.
Special Guest Director of Shipping in India, Mr Amitabh Kumar expressed sentiments of the shipping industry showing signs of recovery but it is still way off in its track back to normalcy.
“The pandemic has ultimately impacted the mental health of the crew, the masters and even the ship owners who have encountered the tremendous challenge of managing vessels during this difficult time. Hence, nothing is more important than preparing the people who are already facing or those who might face these pandemic-caused problems during this time” he said.
Ending his address, he expressed his gratitude to SMOU for conducting this mental wellness webinar for the seafarers. He spoke for the rights and welfare of seafarers and conveyed his hopes for ships continue sailing as smoothly as possible.
In her attendance, Ms. Mary Liew welcomed participants and highlighted the significance of the seafarers and how they are key to ensure the continued function of the global supply chain. She thanked them for their contributions and stressed on the importance of managing stress and mental wellness at sea, whilst urging the attendees to be more vigilant and show more concern to the welfare of their colleagues at sea.
Mr Amar Singh, General Secretary of The Maritime Union of India (MUI), also took time to address participants and he reaffirmed MUI’s partnership and solidarity with SMOU over the years. In line with Ms. Liew and Mr. Amitabh, he also stressed on the importance of mental wellness and the pressing need to address this issue during this pandemic period.
“The fact remains that the virus is here to stay and we need to work around its existence and adapt to the new way of life. We need to find practical and effective solutions which adopts a two-way unified approach aimed at protecting the mental health of seafarers and the rest of the workers,” Mr. Singh urged.
Founding director of Strive High – trainer and counsellor for emotional and mental management – Ms Preeti Dubey, also presented at the webinar; teaching attendees’ strategies to not only, detect but also address mental health issues. She shone light on how mental health affects people from all walks of life and taught seafarers and ship managers how they can manage their personal mental well-being as well as that of those around them on board. She acknowledged and gave affirmation that mental struggles are nothing to be ashamed of, and instead, provided tools to aid seafarers in identifying, speaking up and seeking help.
Ms Preeti’s closing advice to all seafarers – Tough times don’t last, tough people do. Try to be that tough person and have conviction in your dreams because you will eventually be proud of yourself for standing by them.
“The webinar was great. It had good insights. It covered all the basics of one should look after one’s mental hygiene. Key takeaways were Mental healthiness triangle and FPER. It helped me to understand the gravity of the situation and following FPER we can avoid mental breakdown. I’m grateful towards SMOU for arranging such a insightful information. Mental health is the need of hour. I am hoping invitation for upcoming webinars as well,” said Shubham Vinayak Bhoite, a cadet from TMI.
The COVID-19 experience has been more manageable to those who are on shore; lockdowns can be survived with an end in sight but for seafarers out at sea, stuck in their vessel with no fixed sign off date or having no dependents to turn to. Hence, Sister Saumya from ISWAN – an NGO whose aim is to promote and support the welfare of seafarers worldwide – offered a hand to provide free 24 hours multilingual direct helplines to these seafarers. She urged attendees who might be feeling mentally fatigued or unwell to speak up about their problems and that they were always there for them.
The session ended off with a question and answer segment where attendees had time to clarify their doubts regarding mental health and wellness. Participants walked off armed with knowledge and solutions to overcome mental struggles while out at sea.
“It’s my first time attending a webinar onboard. The webinar was informative and engaging, raising awareness on issues arising from the ensuing pandemic such as how to manage the impact of stress on mental wellness, and how seafarers can develop a mentally healthy workplace. Thank you SMOU and MUI for organising this enriching mental health webinar, and I would like to thank my Company’s ongoing efforts to partner with the associations providing seafarers like us a channel that enables us to acquire new knowledge that strengthens our mental resilience,” said Alam Kekal, from PCL.
“The mental health webinar was the first of its kind that I have ever attended and I think it’s a breakthrough achievement for this particular industry sector. The part about the symptoms and signs of the onset of mental health issues and the various helplines available to seafarers was very helpful and informative. This webinar helped to further firm up and strengthen my beliefs and behaviour, towards managing my team on board, as a chief engineer. I sincerely hope that such webinars are held in future that concentrate on personal behaviour and other mental health issues,” said Raj Ganapathy, Chief Executive of Laurel Ship management.
“(The webinar) by Ms. Preeti Dubey in her presentation could help shipboard management (senior officers) greatly to identify mental illness and handle seafarers’ grievances in a positive manner,” said Captain Hasan, from PACC.