MHSS: Seafarers Need Mental Health Support Before Boarding

File image courtesy MHSS

Published May 17, 2021 12:40 PM by Elaborate Communications

Shipping companies have a duty of care to prepare their crew psychologically and physically before letting them board a vessel, according to the head of Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS), a Hamburg-based startup which provides a 24/7 hotline for crewmembers to speak confidentially to clinical psychologists.

Christian Ayerst, CEO of MHSS, said that seafarers needed mental health training and support while on land and at sea.

“A crewmember’s competence can be judged by their mental wellbeing, which only a clinical psychologist is trained to do,” Ayerst said while speaking on a panel about shipping in the post-COVID era at Capital Link's 3rd Annual Singapore Maritime Forum. “A family member or colleague can’t scan someone to assess whether they’re in the right frame of mind to spend time on a vessel – which is why it’s crucial for the seafarer to talk to a clinical psychologist before boarding a ship and when at sea.”   

Ayerst also questioned whether shipping companies could do more to prepare crewmembers for the stresses and strains of traveling the world’s oceans.

“Mental health and seaworthiness go hand in hand, so there’s a danger to everyone on board if a ship doesn’t have structures in place to support someone struggling mentally. The big question is: are we, as an industry, doing enough to prepare people psychologically for spending months at sea?" he said. 

A failure to provide ongoing mental health support to crewmembers could have serious implications for everyone on board – as well as legal consequences for the ship company, according to Ayerst.  

“If an incident happens, did the ship company have the right structures and processes in place to support people’s mental health? That’s the question the company’s solicitors will be asking in case they’re legally challenged," he added. 

Psychological help is just one aspect for shipping companies to consider when thinking about seafarers’ mental health. Mark O’Neil, President of InterManager and CEO of Columbia Shipmanagement believes “the industry needs a more holistic approach” – covering everything from food and fitness to WiFi and entertainment – to support crewmembers’ physical and mental wellbeing.

Christian Ioannou, Founder and Managing Director of MCTC, the international catering management and training provider, agreed. He said a healthy, balanced diet was essential to helping crewmembers stay mentally and physically fit.  

“Mental health is often linked to the things happening in our lives, but rarely to the foods we put in our bodies,” he said. “We provide our clients weekly menus with all the nutrients that seafarers need, as well as foods that help produce serotonin, helping stabilize someone’s mood and improving their general happiness and wellbeing. The value of having a highly trained, well-educated cook onboard cannot be underestimated – they’re perhaps the most important person after the captain,” Ioannou added.  

Similarly, Captain Faouzi Fradi, Group Crewing and Training Director for Columbia Shipmanagement, felt having a good cook on board when he worked at sea was paramount. “Before setting off, I’d always ask the crew who the chef was,” he said. “I could train the crew, but you have to be a very special captain to train someone to cook healthy, enjoyable food.”

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.