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CMA TV: David Ridder on seafarers' mental and physical health

At the 2019 CMA Shipping event in Stamford, Connecticut, we spoke with David Ridder, Executive Director at The Seaman's Church Institute, about what can be done to improve the mental and physical health of seafarers.

In our discussion with Mr. Ridder, we briefly covered how technology can be a "mixed blessing" to seafarers, and what can be done to rehabilitate of seafarers in extreme circumstances.

"There's more emphasis on the human factor and the quality of life at sea for seafarers."

Read the interview below.

Roxy Kashfi: I was wondering what can the industry do to look after the mental and physical health of seafarers?

David Ridder: That's an increasingly common conversation in maritime, and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. There's more emphasis on the human factor and the quality of life at sea for seafarers.

There is an individual interest in that the industry wants to have well recruited and safe healthy seafarers manning vessels that trade in around the world. There been a number of conversations in the last couple of years about the unique structural challenges of life at sea in terms of the human factor. Seafarers are away from home for a long time. They're away from loved ones, social resources, medical and other kinds of resources that land-based workers take for granted.

We're trying to appreciate these circumstances and look at the ways that crew cohesion and crew morale can be strengthened. Both on routine days and after extraordinary events.

RK: What can be done to improve life at sea both from a physical and mental health perspective?

DK: Social media has taken over the world and it's increasingly common on ships - even in the middle of the ocean. Whether it's simple email opportunities or the capacity to Skype, that's changing with technology. It's both the blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that they can have routine contact with family and loved
ones, but it can be a real a challenge when they learn about home stresses - things they can't do anything about.

If a child is sick or gets into some kind of trouble, they're left with that information thousands of miles from home. They can't do any kind of intervention - like you or I could do - when we're working on shore side.

"Occasional death at sea from injury, suicide or natural causes can be very stressful to the surviving crew."

RK: In cases of extreme circumstances where a seafarer has been in a life-threatening situation, how would you rehabilitate someone who's been through that?

DR: There are a variety of cases which could be traumatic or potentially traumatic. A fire on board a ship can create very high stress. Piracy has been a major stress over the last five or ten years. Occasional death at sea from injury, suicide or natural causes can be very stressful to the surviving crew. Supporting those people whenever we can get to them is important. This could be they come to the next port and doing individual assessments. If it's been highly stressful, do they need mental health support?

Behavioral psychology can give them practical ways to reduce stress or anxiety without having to take medication or do extended technical therapies and they can increase the quality of life. Assuming that they set sail again and don't have to be taken off the ship for some reason.

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