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Mission decries rising mental disorder among seafarers over Covid-19 restrictions   

…Calls for collaboration to enhance welfare of seamen

Mission to Seafarer, an international humanitarian organisation, has raised concern over the growing number of seafarers onboard vessels that show signs of depression, anxiety and mental disorder following the movement restrictions, lack of effective communication with families and long stay onboard vessels.

Speaking on Thursday during a virtual seminar put together by Lagos chapter of the Mission with theme ‘Seafarers’ Welfare: Are We Missing the Boat?’, Ayodele Coker, clinical psychologist, LASUTH, said that recent scientific study, has shown very strong correlation between depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among seafarers.

“Study also shows that 25 percent seafarers suffer depression, 17 percent suffer anxiety, and 20 percent had contemplated committing suicide while 15 percent had actually committed suicide in one year,” Coker said.

Ben Bailey, director for advocacy, Mission to Seafarers Headquarters in London, who stated that the Mission has been very concern about the mental impact Covid-19 restrictions had on crew wellbeing, said that lack of communication is now a very common complains among seafarers because many of their families feel they are not hearing enough from their loved ones.

He however questioned the level of resilient training that is given to seamen in order to prepare properly. He said when issues of Covid-19 movement restrictions, lack of communication with families, issue of repatriation are summed up, they become even more difficult for seamen to bear.

Bailey, who pointed out the need for regulatory agencies to ensure that seafarers are properly supported through the process of repatriation, said that apart from helping seamen to get to their local airports, there is also need to sensitise people about Covid-19.

“The issue of repatriation is a double edged sword because many obviously want to return home, others are concerned about how their families would receive them. We have several cases where seafarers were forced by their families to isolate and in one dramatic case, the seafarer was forced to leave the village by the local elders because of risk of him being infectious to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Coker said that even before the advent of Covid-19 pandemic, mental health disorder among seamen has been on the increase but the Covid-19 has actually grew the number astronomically.

He pointed out fear of dying at sea as one of the causes of mental health disorder among seafarers as about 2,000 seafarers lose their lives annually due to natural causes and accidents.

Coker, who noted that it has become very important to have medical officer onboard a vessel, who is trained on cognitive behavior therapy, and how to quickly recognise the signs and symptoms of mental disorder, said that such medical officer can provide counseling, anti-depression and anti-anxiety to seafarers onboard.

Adebayo Sarumi, chairman of the Mission in Lagos, who blamed lack of fund for inability to develop a deserving centre in Nigeria, disclosed that the centre has received the buy-in of the headquarter in UK and regional head in South African to assist Nigeria in upgrading the centre to an international standard for Nigerian and foreign seafarers coming into Nigeria.

Concluding, Coker said that “It is also very important that the ship owners, health workers and policy makers continue to talk about the issue of mental health in order to reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorder. There is need to screen seafarers before they go onboard in order to reduce the rate of mental health disorder among seafarers,” he said.

He listed other causes to include are loneliness, fear of falling sick and getting hospitalised, piracy, abduction, abandonment, repatriation, refusal to allow them to go on annual leave, refusal to pay their annual wages, insecurity, hostility and others.

“The manifestation of depression can be as physical disorder such as shortness of breath, weight loss, low appetite, poor sleep, back pain and hotness of the body. When that has not been attended to, it could turn into mental disorder, we have low mood, sadness, loss of interest, hallucination, emotional or seeing strange things. They can get to hopeless, worthlessness and feeling of guilt, which is when they think of committing suicide when they don’t have psychological intervention,” he added.

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