Over the last two weeks, our Connecting Crew campaign has highlighted the importance of connecting with others for our mental wellbeing, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic where shore leave is not possible and crew changes are delayed by months.
We launched this digital campaign on 29 June 2020 with the support of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). We encouraged everyone to follow our activities and get involved on social media with the hashtag #ConnectingCrew.
So why are relationships with others important for our wellbeing? Research has shown that those who are more socially connected to family, friends or their community are happier and healthier, both mentally and physically. Seafarers can spend long periods away from loved ones and the familiarity of home, and loneliness is associated with a number of health problems including higher blood pressure and poor mental health. Just interacting with others – a smile, a thank you, a single act of kindness – can boost both our own wellbeing and that of the people we interact with. Read more in our article here.
The first week of the Connecting Crew campaign was aimed at shipping companies and ship owners, who play a key role in facilitating strong relationships on board. From organising tournaments and increasing the internet quota on board to keeping in regular contact with both vessels and their crew’s families, companies can build a sense of community and make their crew members feel valued. We shared some ideas:
Time, facilities on board, funding – factors such as these can all be barriers to socialising on board. Similarly, it is important to remember that crew members may have different interests or backgrounds, and some may feel isolated if they are the only woman, deck cadet or crew member of their nationality, for example. Here are some points for companies to consider:
To conclude the first week of our campaign, Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr. Pennie Blackburn spoke to ISWAN’s Project Manager Caitlin Vaughan to sum up why connections with others are important for seafarers, how gratitude can make a difference and what companies can do to facilitate this. Watch their discussion here:
At a time when many seafarers have had their contracts extended or are stranded on their vessels and unable to get ashore due to the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping morale up on board and pulling together for support has never been more important. The second week of our campaign started with some tips for seafarers on how to build good working relationships on board and support fellow crew members during challenging times:
With seafarers working and living in the same place while they are at sea, it is important to ensure they have the opportunity to wind down and socialise with those around them. Every vessel is different – whereas sports competitions or hobby groups may work well for one crew, another crew may prefer movie screenings or BBQs. Read more in our article here.
Nurturing relationships with loved ones back home can be just as beneficial for a seafarer’s wellbeing as connecting with fellow crew members while away at sea. Seafarers may have limited opportunities to contact their families due to WiFi restrictions, shift work or time zone differences, so managing expectations on both sides can be helpful. Thinking about how to be part of events and celebrations back home can help seafarers feel included. Talking openly about the difficulties on board and, likewise, sympathetically listening to problems back home despite not necessarily being able to solve them, can strengthen relationships in spite of the distance. We shared more on this here:
Finally, if a seafarer is struggling and needs support, there are some simple steps they or a fellow crew member can follow to ensure they get the support they need. Our Psychological First Aid poster contains tips on how to identify and cope with signs of stress and provides contact details for sources of support, including our confidential, 24-hour helpline SeafarerHelp. The ICS’s Coping with stress during COVID-19 poster also features some useful guidance for seafarers.
All the resources from the Connecting Crew campaign will remain available at seafarerswelfare.org/our-work/connecting-crew. Our work in this area continues with our ongoing Social Interaction Matters (SIM) Project. We recently conducted a survey to investigate the barriers and drivers of social interaction on board and we held a webinar on 9 July to discuss some of the preliminary findings. The webinar video will be available soon and a full research report will be published later in the year.
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