Noreen Arralde, Senior Claims Director, talks about the taboo subject of suicide and what resources are available to Members to help mitigate the risk.
*This article deals with sensitive topics including mental health and suicide so please keep this in mind before reading.
As claims executives specialising in 'People Claims', we at the UK P&I Club have seen our share of tragic, preventable deaths by suicide.
- Steward found hanged by his shower curtain rod
- Jr Engineer jumped overboard and has not been found
- Tankerman failed to report for shift and later found hanged in his cabin
Each time we learn about one of these incidents, we wonder why such an act seemed the only alternative and we think if only that person had availed themselves of resources which may have aided them in their time of despair, this tragedy may have been avoided.
Causes of suicide
Isolation - Despondency - Trauma - Family Conflict - Anxiety - Depression
Death by suicide seems to be on the rise globally, but seafarers seem to be particularly susceptible to the underlying causes of this worldwide problem. While the exact cause behind a death by suicide may not be known, seafarers may be prone to experiencing feelings of isolation since they are away from family and friends for months at a time. Cultural differences aboard ship may make it challenging for seafarers to form close bonds with co-workers, so that feelings of isolation are exacerbated. When seafarers experience isolation, their feelings of anxiety, depression and despondency may take on added significance, because there is no one with whom the seafarer believes they can share their feelings.
Recognizing the risk
Shipowners may be able to help by making seafarers aware of resources to support their mental health, some of which are listed below. Shipowners may also wish to consider encouraging crew members to recognize and report risks of suicide. Training is available to recognize suicidal signs and to engage with those at risk and encourage them to avail themselves of support services. The UK P&I Club’s Crew Health team, led by Sophia Bullard, can be contacted for information regarding the various maritime wellbeing training programs, and support options, available.
Avoiding the stigma
A challenge for the maritime industry as a whole is to work to remove the stigma associated with reporting risks of suicide. We believe seafarers fear reporting their feelings to co-workers and supervisors because of the stigma associated with having such feelings. Seafarers should be encouraged to recognize the real harm that suicidal ideation presents and to set aside notions that such thoughts demonstrate personal weakness or are culturally unacceptable.
By recognizing and reporting the risks, the marine industry can adopt an approach to fitness for shipboard service which prioritizes mental, as well as physical, health. The UK P&I Club has partnered with several organizations which support mental health initiatives aimed at seafarers. These are listed below.
P&I cover response
UK P&I Club Rules provide Members with support in the event of crewmember death by suicide. The Rules provide cover for funeral and other expenses necessarily incurred in relation to crewmember death, without exclusion for death by suicide. However, many crew agreements or other contracts of service or employment do exclude compensation (‘death benefit’) for death by willful act. In such cases, the denial of the death benefit can be a real shock to the family of the decedent. This is all the more reason to recognize the risk of suicide and be proactive in trying to prevent it.
Further resources for mental health support can be found through the UK P&I Club and our maritime charity partners:
- UK P&I Club Crew Health Mental Health page
- Befrienders Worldwide Seafarers help
- Mission to Seafarers services
- Sailors Society Support for Seafarers
- ISWAN – Seafarer help multi-platform support
- Stella Maris Seafarer support and help
- Sea Hospital Society Seafarers Advice & Information Line