Right now mental health and well being are making headlines left, right and center. From school children and teens to workers and the retired, our current state of being is the at the top of the agenda for many institutions and organisations. And in an industry like shipping, the mental health of crew is an issue that should not be taken lightly.
No one is immune to the stresses and tribulations of life today but living and working on board a vessel can come with its very own specific set of challenges. It can be hard for seafarers to ‘switch off’ thanks to always having to be vigilant, while also performing tasks to the very best of their ability. Any problems can be compounded by the fact that living quarters can be cramped and work and life are never really separated.
There are obstacles to overcome, certainly, but one thing that is a given is that life at sea, for the right person, can be immensely rewarding in ways that a 9 to 5 desk job can’t be. But how do crew members stay mentally healthy while spending weeks away from loved ones and facing these challenges, while also building a career and making the most of opportunities that the unique circumstances offer?
Zone in on what makes you happy
It might sound more suited to a new age self help manual, but being happy is key to forging a long and rewarding career at sea. It can be easy to get caught up in the day to day details of life so it can be well worth sitting down with a pen and paper (or the Notes app on your phone) and making a list of the things you most enjoy about your life. Maybe it’s that moment you step on board your vessel or maybe it’s the opportunity to travel and get away from the stress and/or boredom of life onshore. Perhaps it’s the sense of achievement that comes from knowing you’ve performed your tasks to the best of your capabilities, or it could be catching up with old friends you’ve crewed with before and knowing there are opportunities for forging new relationships. Just writing out that list can make you realize there are more things you appreciate about your life than you originally thought - and it will give you a good indicator of what to focus on if you are feeling down.
Become the best seafarer you can be
Maybe you’re a new crew member who just needs a little time to adjust to life on board or perhaps the role you’re in isn’t quite right for you. Either way, keeping your mind active and learning new skills - both soft skills and hard - will give you a sense of achievement and increase your mental well being. If you don’t feel challenged by your current job, can you speak to your superior about learning new skills or taking on more responsibilities? Why not learn to code, for example? As shipping becomes more reliant on technology, seafarers with techy talents will become more sought after than ever before.
Stay physically fit to be mentally fit
Happiness and physical and mental health are intrinsically linked and we all know that exercise releases chemicals which make us feel more positive. Therefore don’t neglect your workout routine, eat well, and make sure you get enough rest - whether that’s through sleeping, watching a movie or hanging out with your fellow crew.
Don’t put pressure on yourself
Due to the nature of your maritime job, it’s likely you have enough pressure as it. Therefore don’t place too many expectations on yourself. The things that create happiness and have a positive effect on your mental well being don’t have to be earth shattering events: they can be something as simple as having a good laugh when you’re off duty, increasing the weights you’re lifting in the gym, catching up with family online, or having a meaningful conversation with a buddy on board.
Finally, be alert and be a good listener
It’s part of your job to be alert and this extends to keeping an eye on those around you. Just as it’s important for you to communicate if you’re feeling down, whether with family or fellow crew members, it’s also crucial to look out for the signs that someone around you may be struggling. Life on board a ship comes with taking responsibility for one another so if you think someone you know is displaying signs that their mental health may be suffering, don’t hesitate to offer support, either in person, or by speaking to a superior.
If you’re a seafarer looking for a new challenge, take a look at our job vacancies. At Martide we have great opportunities for crew members of all levels of experience and we’d love to help you find the right role for you.