Why are relationships with others important for our wellbeing?

June 30, 2020
© Gerardo Rojas

Over the next two weeks, our Connecting Crew campaign will be sharing ideas for ship owners and seafarers on how to strengthen relationships on board to improve the mental wellbeing of the whole crew. This is particularly relevant during the current COVID-19 pandemic where seafarers are facing extended contracts and more time away from loved ones. But why is it important to our wellbeing to connect with others?

The times when we are truly happy or joyful often involve other people. Relationships are an essential part of our psychological wellbeing. According to a 2016 Mental Health Foundation report1, people who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer, with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected. Having close, positive relationships can also give us a purpose and sense of belonging.

Social isolation has been identified as problematic for seafarers for many years and it is not surprising that if people feel isolated, their wellbeing is likely to be affected. Loneliness has been found to be associated with higher blood pressure, poor sleep, lower immunity, a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and poorer mental health2.

All this means that nurturing relationships with friends and family at home and connecting with the people around us is important.

Communication with loved ones back home is not always easy for seafarers, and often depends on time differences, connectivity on board and opportunities for shore leave. Keeping in touch with loved ones back home can be beneficial on both sides. Talking openly about any difficulties experienced on board may help seafarers see their options more clearly and strengthen their relationships with those they confide in.

A sense of community is also an important part of wellbeing. Communities can exist or be created from a shared location, hobbies, interests or other common factors. Being part of a community helps us feel connected and supported, and gives us a sense of belonging. It can also give more meaning and purpose to everyday life.

Whilst community, close friends and family are important, research suggests that just interacting with others is also beneficial for our mental health. A single act of kindness has the biggest impact on our mental wellbeing. Being concerned for others’ welfare, doing something nice for someone, helping them, thanking them, being kind or even a simple smile can all contribute to your wellbeing. Spending time supporting someone who is going through a difficult time can help to build strong bonds1. Developing good workplace relationships can also have a positive impact on job satisfaction, workplace morale and quality of life3.

Although the ship’s crew may be made up of people from different countries and cultures, and everyone has different roles and responsibilities, connecting with fellow crew members can benefit the wellbeing of everyone on board.

Whether you are a ship owner or seafarer, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to follow our Connecting Crew campaign over the next two weeks, and use the hashtag #ConnectingCrew to share your thoughts and ideas.

Psychological Wellbeing at Sea (ISWAN’s Good Mental Health Guide)
1Mental Health Foundation (May 2016) Relationships in the 21st Century. London: Mental Health Foundation
2Cacioppo, J.T., Fowler, J.H. & Christakis, N.A. (2009). Alone in the crowd: The structure and spread of loneliness in a large social network. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 97 (6), 977–991.
3Schermuly, C.C. & Meyer, B. (2015). Good relationships at work: The effects of Leader-Member Exchange and Team-Member Exchange on psychological empowerment, emotional exhaustion, and depression. Journal of Organisational Behavior, DOI:10.1002/job.2060.

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