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Industry urged to adopt psychological first aid for traumatised seafarers

Last month’s hijacking of the oil tanker Nave Andromeda off the UK coast highlighted the physical danger that today’s seafarers can sometimes find themselves in. But it also brought into sharp focus the danger that can be inflicted to seafarers’ mental wellbeing, something that can go unmissed.

That is why Mental Health Support Solutions’ (MHSS) Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director, Charles Watkins, is urging the industry to provide the necessary support for crew by investing in Psychological First Aid (PFA) for those suffering traumatic experiences.

According to Charles Watkins, it is very important that physical needs and safety are assessed and restored after a traumatic event such as a vessel being hijacked. “It is an extremely distressing situation which can lead to a series of issues such as confusion, nightmares, psychogenic headaches, paranoid delusions and suicidal thoughts, he said.”

Psychological First Aid (PFA) was defined by Everly and Flynn in 2005 as a compassionate and supportive presence designed to mitigate acute distress and assess the need for continued mental health care. To overcome these issues and difficulties, it is important to educate the crew about the event and the symptoms which may follow a hijacking. The emotions need to be normalised to ease fears and anxieties. There should be discussions on stress-management techniques to educate crew and help them to absorb and release the trauma.”

Other difficulties may be thrown up, such as problems with functioning independently after such a terrifying experience. Some seafarers may be fine and need little or no help to readjust but it’s important to have support available. MHSS stresses the importance on a 360-degree support system which covers psychological care, medical care, logistics, financial issues, and spiritual or faith-based help.

“It all starts with active listening and valuing what the person is saying,” stressed Mr Watkins