Managing Mental Health Post-COVID-19

By TGN Editorial Team

The entire world has experienced an unprecedented pandemic that has resulted in governments limiting our freedom of movement during the last two years to curb the spread of the virus. People were told to work at home if possible, and socializing with others was banned during the virus’s spread. Even now, two years on, there are still outbreaks, and some countries have only recently opened their borders again to travelers.

The terms’ self-isolate’ and ‘lockdown’ are now in common usage, as people have had to adapt to the changing global restrictions.

Seafarers were particularly adversely affected by the changes caused by the pandemic. Added to their already stressful onboard working lives were various COVID protocols, which meant the wearing of PPE, frequent testing, and a crew change crisis. Challenges to crew changes caused around 400,000 seafarers to remain on board longer than their contracted work period due to a lack of international flights, closure of embassies, meaning no visa applications, and an unwillingness of ports to allow the crew to disembark. This would have been an incredibly stressful and harrowing time for seafarers either stuck onboard, unable to return home to loved ones, or those trapped ashore unable to begin their next contract onboard.

For many, the mental stresses have been even more significant than the physical effects of the virus, as the recently published quarter four of the Seafarers’ Happiness Index has illustrated.

The Index, which The Mission runs to Seafarers, asks ten key questions each quarter, allowing seafarers to rate their happiness on a sliding scale, with ten being the maximum. The reports are an important benchmark of seafarers’ satisfaction with their lives at sea.

One of the issues cited in the last quarter of the Seafarer Happiness Index report of 2021 was that the COVID yoyo effect of constantly changing rules and protocols negatively affected relationships onboard, with some seafarers talking about bullying and harassment, and frictions on some vessels.

However, some companies have attempted to address these fractured relations by improving the living and working conditions on board to help improve seafarers’ mental health.

Areas of improvement include:

Catering

Food and the general standard of catering on board are essential for crew morale. Having nutritious meals keeps morale high and benefits both the physical and mental well-being of seafarers.

Shore Leave

Leaving the vessel for a few hours and experiencing a different country and culture has been one of the main attractions of life at sea. Unfortunately, in recent times, both due to heavy workloads when in port and the pandemic restrictions still in force in some countries, such excursions have been almost non-existent. We can only hope that as COVID rates of infection recede in most countries, and the whole issue of shore leave can be revisited so that seafarers will not feel like they are in lockdown on a vessel during the entire period they are onboard.

Exercise

Regular exercise is proven to improve not only physical health but also mental well-being too. Some vessels provide areas to exercise with some gym equipment and free weights. Often, crew also organizes their team games, with basketball being a favorite leisure pastime on deck.

Socializing

It is easy for crew members to cut themselves off by retiring to their cabins when off duty and spending most of their free time alone. It is not a healthy option. Seafarers should be encouraged to organize social events such as quiz nights, bingo, board games, or even watching films or sports programs together where people can relax and get to know each other socially. These types of activities help people bond and lead to better working relationships.

Sleep and Rest

Having proper rest periods and a good night’s sleep are fundamentals to managing mental health. Getting into a good routine is essential, although sometimes this is easier said than done, with some tasks onboard taking longer than anticipated. Also, not looking at screens about an hour before going to bed is recommended as the blue light from phones, tablets, and laptops disrupt melatonin production, a hormone associated with helping us fall asleep naturally.

Reaching out

Probably the essential way to manage mental health issues is by communicating. Very often, people suffer in silence’ especially men who do not like to talk about their emotions or problems. However, those who do find out that they are not alone, and often, by talking through issues, the individual unburdens themselves and finds out that the issue can be resolved. Seafarer charities have specialist helplines to offer counseling services for those in need. The first step is to pick up the telephone and talk. The good news is that mental health is no longer viewed as something which should not be spoken about and brushed under the carpet. More people will seek help and find ways to manage their situation with this newfound openness.

Share:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin