Research has shown that seafarers may experience higher levels of mental ill-health than other workers.
The mental wellbeing of seafarers is of fundamental importance to safe shipping operations. Spotting and raising mental health issues is essential to getting help and support quickly.
No one is immune to mental ill-health. Difficult life events and other stressors can affect us all, at any time. It is vital that seafarers are able to seek help easily when under pressure, or facing dilemmas, so that they can be supported or signposted to professional help without fear of negative consequences
In a report commissioned by Shell, The Institute of Employment Studies, found that a peer support programme similar to those used in the military (TRIM), construction (Mates in Construction), and aviation industries, could have a positive effect in the maritime industry.
Regulation within the aviation industry now requires the provision of a peer to peer programme, which offers pilots the opportunity to contact a trained peer on a confidential and independent basis if they require help, advice or assistance with a social, personal or health related issue. The aim is to provide pilots with an invaluable opportunity to discuss and resolve issues related to their wellbeing in a confidential and trusted environment.
Whilst not yet commonplace, such a programme could help seafarers by providing confidential access to peers from a similar professional background, who can empathise with their situation. For example, peer support could offer Captains an easily accessible opportunity to talk to other Captains (or former Captains) about their issues and concerns, which they may not feel able to discuss onboard.
N.B. There are key differences between maritime and other industries that preclude the direct replication of existing programmes, such as those used in the aviation industry. The information outlined in this document identifies some of the areas which could be considered when setting up a peer to peer programme specifically related to the maritime industry.
There are many similarities between the challenges of working in the aviation and maritime industries. This suggests that peer to peer programmes, alongside other forms of support (such as access to qualified counsellors and mental health professionals), may also help ship managers support their crews.
Who is this document for?
This document is intended for ship managers and associated crew management entities. Within this document, ‘seafarer’ refers to the individual seeking help, the ‘peer’ is the individual providing support.
Who is a peer to peer programme for?
The ship manager should decide which employees will be covered by the programme i.e. senior officers only, all officers, or the full vessel complement including ratings.
This decision will be influenced by:
- Number of peers available;
- Size and complexity of the organisation;
- Prioritisation of ranks where increased risk has been recognised;
- To what extent any related programmes/ services already exist and dependent on the current level of uptake.
Objectives of a peer to peer programme
A peer to peer programme is there to provide confidential access to a peer who will support seafarers in discussing, recognising, managing and overcoming difficult issues which could affect their ability to perform their job safely.
Setting up a programme
Before implementing a peer to peer programme, ship managers should already:
Spotting issues quickly is known to be key to the high success rates of peer to peer support. All peers should receive training (appropriate to their role) to ensure that issues are handled appropriately, objectively and sensitively, so that seafarers can be referred for professional advice, or signposted to other services, if needed.
All training should be provided by appropriately qualified and experienced professionals. Structured education of peers can be undertaken by the company but must include medical professionals and may include psychologists. Medical professionals involved should have specialist training in mental health, knowledge of shipping and awareness of the unique challenges that affect the seafaring industry. Some face-to-face education is desirable. On-line computer-based training and apps may be useful additions.