Every year in the UK mental health costs around $1,574 per employee, according to analysis from London’s Centre for Mental Health, costs that are even higher for seafarers.
An app called Tlero has been created with a mission to end the workplace health crisis for crews around the world. The app has the backing of maritime veteran Manish Singh and is rolling out solutions and training programmes to counter the growing threat posed by mental health at sea.
Singh, a third-generation seafarer himself and an experienced shipmanager, recognises the issues intimately and aims to use Tlero as a digital platform to significantly enhance awareness towards the mental health issues facing the seafaring world and offer self-management tools, highly customised training and, where required, intervention at early stages of mental stress for colleagues in the maritime sector, at sea and ashore.
“We have seen undeniable evidence of worsening mental health in the maritime sector,” Singh says, explaining: “The symptoms are increasingly pointing to lowered sense of wellbeing, anxiety, unhealthy levels of stress, sleep disorders, isolation-related issues, etc.”
Fewer personnel onboard ships mean that seafarers are having to cope with greater pressures physically and mentally in an environment that sees lowered levels of interaction with their fellow shipmates.
The machismo culture that persists in many cases, Singh observes, means that seafarers will often not talk about mental health challenges with their peers onboard or their colleagues ashore.
“Sadly, the stigma attached with mental health causes many colleagues to be averse to talk about the challenges they are facing, for fear that this may be to the detriment of their future employability,” Singh says.
Unfortunately, a vast majority of the responses to this growing problem – limited so far to blue-chip operators, according to Singh – have been largely reactionary in nature.
Industry bodies have set up seafarer helplines, often also doubling up as whistle-blowing helplines. Some major maritime operators are considering employee assistance programmes (EAPs), while others are relying on broad-based awareness material developed by industry bodies and charities.
The team at Tlero believes that in order to improve seafarer mental health it’s vital to work with individual colleagues and not rely overly on collective initiatives.
“Factors such as a perception of stigma as well as practical issues such as the geographically dispersed workplace, combined with a continually shuffling teams and limited access to shore-based care professionals, makes self-help tools a very important part of overall seafarer mental health management,” Singh explains.
Tlero connects with individual seafarers via the Tlero app. Maritime operators signing up to Tlero offer the app to their seafarers as part of their wellbeing initiatives. Seafarers register and access Tlero under a secure and confidential environment, which helps the user/seafarer check their wellbeing levels against a broad set of criteria. Accordingly, Tlero offers curated training content and tools customised at the individual seafarer level. The seafarer is then able to work in absolute assurance of confidentiality, through a range of self-awareness tools and training to help them work through anxiety, stress and associated issues that they are likely to face at sea.
Tlero’s proprietary Wellbeing Checker is customised for maritime users to reflect issues specific to this industry. The company is now seeking to collaborate with industry bodies to establish best practices and these will be reflected in further content for maritime users.
“In the longer term, it is imperative that life at sea remains a fulfilling experience, with the right support in all aspects of wellbeing and health. Healthy and happy seafarers are absolutely fundamental to safety of life, environment, ships and cargo,” Singh concludes.