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Crew conflict sparks more yacht crew calls to MHSS

Charles Watkins, Managing Director and Clinical Psychologist, Mental Health Support Solutions

Conflict and work-related stress have sparked an increase in calls from super yacht crew to a mental health support line, a new report reveals.

Workload, isolation, crew conflict and colleagues contracting Covid-19 are the biggest causes of stress and anxiety for the crewmembers calling Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS), according to the company’s latest Quarterly Activities Report.

“They [super yacht crew] are finding it harder to look out for their mental health,” said the report, which carries data from the last quarter (October to December) of 2021. “The current workload seems to offer very limited time to rest and replenish energy levels. Most callers’ mental health is decreasing due to the onboard environment and crew conflict situations.”

The research also shows more incidents of bullying and harassment involving seafarers and shore-based staff.

Most calls to MHSS, which provides 24/7 mental health support to the maritime industry, are made by managers and officers requesting pre-emptive help for, or a risk assessment of, distressed co-workers.

Usage of the phone line has increased significantly among Asian office staff, while general land-based employees that contact MHSS report adjustment issues with their working environment, colleagues and workflows.

Other stress-related reasons for calling MHSS include errors in communication among co-workers, generational differences between experienced seafarers and their younger colleagues and limited crew change, leading to “anger, conflict and anxiety”.

Driven by its findings, MHSS has made several recommendations to support the mental wellbeing of seafarers and shore-based staff:

  1. Vessels should increase the number of psychological first aiders on board, as crewmembers are more likely to approach someone working in close contact for help.
  2. Seafarers need support with their onboard work culture to develop their communication, more compassionate leadership skills and basic knowledge of mental health procedures and practices.
  3. Surveys can uncover the challenges facing seafarers and highlight areas of mental health that require improvement. Shipping companies should carry them out regularly.
  4. Webinars hosted by MHSS are good for connecting seafarers and office staff, and they contribute to reducing the stigma around mental health.