World Suicide Prevention Day is an important annual event to raise awareness of suicide. Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Programme Director, shared her thoughts around the stigma of mental wellbeing and suicide.
During my time with UK P&I Club Crew Health, I have been aware of cases of suicide amongst crew. Each individual case is different but one common thread runs through them all. That is the effect each incident has on those involved. The overriding feeling of sadness and thoughts of “why this couldn’t be prevented?”
This is why continual education and awareness is so important and why I signed up to be a Mental Health First Aider. The Mental Health First Aid training, along with SafeTalk (suicide alertness training), have really given me confidence to tackle the subject of suicide. I have learnt to recognise the signs, engage someone and connect them to a resource for further support.
The work we have done with our maritime charities and Crew Health partners brings this home to me. There are some excellent initiatives in the maritime industry. Such as the ISWAN Seafarerhelp support service, Mission to Seafarers WeCare Programme, Sailors’ Society Crisis Response programme. We must continue signposting these services to ensure our members have access to training initiatives and crew know where to get support when they need it.
Some people say they are bored talking about Mental Health. Well, that is a positive to me, because it shows they are aware of Mental Health and have probably heard a lot on the subject. Just 10 years ago they would have not even mentioned Mental Wellbeing.
Mental Health affects us all and is a constantly moving scale. Whether they admit it or not most people have experienced themselves or been affected by poor mental health. Likewise, most of us have been aware of a suicide, whether it happened to a celebrity, family member, friend or loved one. When that happens I know they will think “what could I have done to prevent this?”. Well, one suggestion is to educate yourself and equip yourself with the tools to help someone if needed.
If one suicide can be prevented by the information circulating for World Suicide Prevention Day - then it’s all worthwhile – and that’s why I’ll be supporting World Suicide Prevention Day.
With the World Suicide Prevention Day in mind I asked Capt David Watkins at Crew Health partners Befrienders Worldwide, to share his thoughts on the subject of Suicide Prevention in Maritime.
"Remembering those that keep the primary global supply chain operating.
The anniversary date for World Suicide Prevention Day, 10th September, evokes memories for countless millions each year for those that have suffered the trauma of being affected by a life lost to the suicide of a family member or friend.
The loss of a seafarer to suicide affects not just the seafarer's family but all those on board who worked with their colleagues and friend. There is usually an overwhelming sense of “I cannot understand why they took their life”.
Comments like, “I thought I knew the person well enough to know if something was troubling him”, or, “I don’t understand; He only needed to come to me, and I would help!”
However, the seafarer never did come to anyone and ask for help. Signs of the emotional crisis were masked, ignored or not understood, and the seafarer was left alone.
Many questions arise from suicide on board a ship, not least was it a suicide, an accident or something more sinister. The mental anguish created affects everyone, not just the immediate family and seafarer's friends, but the vessel's crew, owners, and managers.
Much work has been taking place recently to focus on seafarers' mental health and well-being, mainly due to the pandemic, which affected seafarers disproportionately due to their isolation from home and friends.
The Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) and the Maritime Charities Group (MCG) commissioned a team of maritime specialists who created a standard for seafarers’ mental health awareness and well-being training. Several companies have incorporated mental health and well-being training into their ongoing training programmes, and some have adopted this standard.
The Standard is being published by MNTB and is available from maritime publishers Witherbys for a nominal £10 fee. To buy a copy, click here.
The very nature of seafaring requires real inner strength and resilience to cope with shipboard life and separation from those you know, and from time to time, that inner strength gives way, and we no longer feel resilient; but vulnerable. It’s at these times that we need to have someone to speak to, just to be heard. Nothing fancy, high level or complex, but someone who actively listens to you and gives you the time to offload your emotional concerns and will not judge what you say. Someone who does not provide advice but has empathy can understand where you are emotionally and allows you the time to unravel the problems you are experiencing.
Organisations like the seafarers charities provide excellent support in port; others like the International Seafarers Welfare Assistant Network (ISWAN) offer a wide range of support for seafarers, including emotional support.
The Befrienders Worldwide charity, with its global network of seafarers' support centres, also provides emotional support.
All companies are encouraged to have resources and provisions to support seafarers emotionally. This requires basic training for shipboard crews to recognise when someone is in trouble, anxious, depressed or expressing suicidal thoughts or emotions. Equally important is having a ship management team suitably trained to understand the potential for an emotional breakdown on board a ship, which can impact the safe running of the vessel.
World Suicide Prevention Day is rightly commemorated. For seafarers, the prevalence of suicidal ideation is higher than in other comparative industries, with many statistics revealing that thoughts of taking their life can be a daily occurrence in those very badly in emotional crisis. (Sailors’ Society / YALE Survey March 2018)
Low self-worth and low esteem often can compound the emotions of those suffering. Still, the public, led by a more comprehensive media education campaign, can significantly help promote seafarers' intrinsic value and vital role in keeping the world's global economy functioning. Small acts of recognition can go some way to being valued and, in some cases, be a lifeline to live."
It’s great to see new initiatives surrounding mental wellbeing coming through in the Maritime industry. There are already a number of well established training programmes and support services available to crew. Some of these are listed below. UK P&I Club Members may seek further advice through the Crew Health team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further resources for mental health support can be found through UK P&I Club and our maritime charity partners:-
UK P&I Club Crew Health Mental Health page
Befrienders Worldwide Seafarers help
Sailors Society Support for Seafarers
ISWAN – Seafarer help multi platform support
Stella Maris Seafarer support and help
Sea Hospital Society Seafarers Advice & Information Line
Statistics and information provided within this article are correct at the time of publishing.
Crew Health Programme Director
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