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Mental health issues drag Pinoy seafarers down; Study: Exhaustion, boredom cause of seafarer depression

Mental health issues drag Pinoy seafarers down
Raymund Antonio November 21, 2019

The decline in the number of Filipino seafarers onboard foreign vessels due to their poor mental health condition has alarmed the maritime industry.

Capt. Jesser Cordova, president of Interworld Shipping Corporation, speaks during the launch of a book, titled “Uncovering Seafarers Mental Health: Shattering the Stigma, Fostering Change,” at Sofitel Hotel, Pasay City.

This was pointed out by Capt. Jesser Cordova, president of Interworld Shipping Corporation, during the recent launch of a book, titled “Uncovering Seafarers Mental Health: Shattering the Stigma, Fostering Change,” at Sofitel Hotel, Pasay City.

Cordova, who is the founder of the Seafarers Mental Health Center, specifically cited Japanese ship-owners who hire foreign seafarers instead of Filipino maritime professionals.

“Poor mental health connotes bad or erratic work performance. And my Japanese principals are so sick and tired, prompting them to pick instead other Asian seafarers such Burmese, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, among others,” he said.

Cordova explained the mental health disorders faced by Filipino seafarers can be attributed to the “disregard of human element” in the maritime industry.

“Maritime regulators and government institutions focus on the technical side, disregarding the human element side which is the main reason why we seafarers suffer from depression and anxiety disorders that can lead to deaths by committing suicide,” he said.

The worldwide fleet is composed of men, and Cordova stated that men, who are vocal about mental issues, can be perceived as a weakness.

“As inferior, as flawed, broken guys who are more likely to be ostracized for their honesty, instead of rewarded for their bravery. Instead of affording a fellow man compassion, we mock, belittle, and turn a blind eye. We freely spit the phrase, “Man up,” as though your gender alone should suffice to guide you through your darkest times,” he declared.

The impact of Filipino seafarers to the global economy has been quite a known feat. Any global economy movement via ocean-going merchant vessels has Filipino seafarers onboard.

However, the rising cases of Filipino seafarers suffering from mental disorders have caused the decline in the deployment of seafarers abroad.

A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that the global economy loses up to $1 trillion annually due to lost productivity caused by mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This includes the sea-based workforce.

The report stated, “And for the shipping world, studies done by pertinent international medical institutions showed that the data on suicides proved that the mental health in seafarers alone continues to be very poor and often fatal”.

Cordova, who is a seafarer himself, said that it is now high time for government regulators to foster change by including discussions about mental health during their pre-departure orientation seminar.

Study: Exhaustion, boredom cause of seafarer depression
Yashika F. Torib November 13, 2019

Exhaustion from too much work was identified by majority of seafarers as an underlying cause of shipboard depression, as were family-related problems and boredom.

This was the result of an extensive study on Seafarers’ Mental Health and Wellbeing made by the United Kingdom-based Cardiff University.

With over 1,500 seafarers completing survey questions based on their experiences, it was found out that other ship-specific factors caused seafarers to feel down, such as heavy workload, being unable to take shore leave, poor food, having a ‘bossy captain’, discrimination, being blamed for things, and falling out with superiors and other colleagues.

According to Helen Sampson, director of Cardiff University’s Seafarers International Research Centre, seafarers working on cargo ships “experience very little happiness onboard.”

Even with the risk of anxiety and depression, the study found out that many employers are failing to address the issue. It stated that seafarers’ mental health and well-being is of considerable concern to maritime charities, employer associations and trade unions. It is, however, regarded as a less pressing problem by employers.

Sampson stated that there is evidence of recent-onset of increase in psychological disorders among serving seafarers but only 55 percent of employers said they had not introduced any policies or practices to address mental health for a decade.

To combat depression, seafarers reported a range of shipboard strategies that they used including recreational activities and interactional activities. They have identified the provision of free internet access as the most significant contribution that could be made by employers to the improvement of mental health and wellbeing on board.

They also called for improved terms and conditions of work, relationships on board, physical health, accommodation and recreation.

On the other hand, the study found that seafarers and some employers advocate proactive measures to improve the shipboard communications infrastructure and available recreational facilities, seafarers’ employment terms and conditions and physical health in support of better mental health and wellbeing on board. These measures are likely to be more effective in improving happiness and mental health and wellbeing on board than current reactive strategies (e.g. the provision of counselling to seafarers) and self-help strategies targeted at seafarers

Isolation and distance from family

In an interview for the study, one seafarer said: “Between pressure, workload, no days off and you are a gazillion miles away from home with limited communication, what do you think is going to happen?”

Another said: “Three months on land is nothing. You can’t see your kids grow up, you can’t see anything. You are just like an uncle coming and going.”

Sampson noted that isolation exposes seafarers to undetected abuse, bullying and harassment by superiors and colleagues onboard. “However, many employers also mistreat seafarers by failing to provide decent and humane living conditions which promote good mental wellbeing… it is time such issues were properly addressed,” she said.