Personal injury and illness claims are of course very different from property claims and besides the actual injury or illness sustained the "human element" can vastly alter the outcome of the recovery period and thus making the matters somewhat unpredictable to deal with.
In this article we briefly consider what effects mental well-being and outside influences, such as pre-existing psychological illness, family problems, depression, relationship troubles, loneliness and financial hardship can have on the seafarer. Experience and research suggests that these factors may enhance an injury or illness and most of this is unlikely to be detected during a medical examination carried out prior to embarkation.
During a pre-medical examination, the focus is predominantly on specific physical symptoms such as neck, shoulder and/or back pain. If there have been any specific injuries suffered by the seafarer previously then this will likely be investigated by the doctor. Mental well-being evaluations are not always prioritised and can be much more difficult to detect unless there are indications of previous psychological problems. For instance, the seafarer may be asked simple questions such as "how is everything socially" to which the natural reply would commonly be "alright".
Those who are struggling with well-being issues could be more susceptible to illness or injury as they are likely to be in a more vulnerable position.
Through communication by mobile phone and internet, the seafarer can now be in regular contact with family or friends. This is mostly positive in that seafarers are unlikely to feel as isolated from their home life whilst onboard the vessel. However, there are some negative consequences which must be considered. For example, if a seafarer receive bad news whilst at sea it is quite possible that they would not be able to help. This could generate feelings of uselessness, worry and anxiety, and in some cases resulting in lack of concentration, motivation or otherwise meaning that their professional capacity is hindered and duties are perhaps not being performed to the best of their ability.
What is mental well-being?
Well-being is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as "the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy".
Beyond the simple definition of well-being, plenty of literature can be found explaining mental well-being, there are subtle differences and the meaning can be open to interpretation in context with one's situation. Something affects one person's mental well-being might not affect another's in the same way. However, the prevalent message is that mental well-being is not just about one's day to day happiness but about how an individual functions on a personal, social and professional level, having control and influence, a sense of meaning, belonging and connection along with the capability to manage problems and change.
Early signs of poor mental well-being:
- poor concentration
- worrying more
- finding it hard to make decisions
- feeling less interested in day-to-day activities
- low mood
- feeling overwhelmed
- tiredness and lack of energy
- sleeping more or less
- talking less and avoiding social activities
- drinking more
- irritability and short temper
How could poor mental well-being contribute to a seafarer sustaining an illness or injury, or even prolong recovery?
There are various ways in which poor mental well-being has been shown to be detrimental to physical health; amongst other things, it can be linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
People with mental health conditions are less inclined to receive the physical healthcare they are entitled to. They are also not as likely to exercise, give up smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and make positive adjustments to their lifestyle or diet.
Poor concentration, tiredness or low interest can lead to mistakes and are often found to be a factor in workplace accidents.
What can be done to promote physical and mental well-being on board the vessel?
- Adopting a system on board whereby employees can consider and address their own mental well-being with the support of their managers or a buddy for peer support to encourage dialogue and an open culture of mental health awareness. The charity Mind have an example and further dialogue that you may find useful: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/1593680/guide-to-waps.pdf.
- Encouraging regular "down time" and promoting sleep efficiency to assist in reducing fatigue and improving concentration. Read our previous article regarding sleep efficiency: Are you sleeping efficiently?
- Considering workplace stress and the effects that it can have on mental well-being. The HSE has a stress management indicator tool which may help employees think about their working conditions and how they can improve: http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/pdfs/indicatortool.pdf.
- Prompting regular exercise whilst on board. It is widely considered that exercise releases endorphins to increase mental well-being and has physical health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of heart disease. Further reading in respect of benefits of exercise and some simple exercise plans can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/Pages/Fitnesshome.aspx.