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Adjustment Disorder


Seafaring is considered as a particularly demanding occupation. It has been well established that a number of the risks and hazards are associated with seafaring i.e. fatigue, long working hours, noise, extreme weather conditions, loneliness, isolation, exposure to noise and difficult working conditions along with risk of accidents and piracy increase the risk for stress and set the stage for the onset of mental health problems ( Oldenburg M., & et. al, 2010).

In identifying stressors on board, a majority of seafarers report separation from their families and friends, loneliness, high work loads, shift work, long working hours , limited recreational time, multicultural & multilingual crews comprise some of the greatest challenges facing seafarers . Stress and anxiety are normal response to major life changes and stressors , however, when the discomfort, distress, turmoil and anguish to the person is significant, adjustment disorder may be the source of his distress.

Adjustment disorder is a very common short-term psychological condition that occurs when a person is unable to cope with a stressor or a recurrent events causing stress to the individual. Adjustment disorder may manifest with depressed mood, anxiety ,maladaptive behaviors causing significant impairment in social, occupational or personal functioning. It is associated with high risk of suicide (Casey et. al. 2014). Therefore, assessment of adjustment disorder should include careful monitoring of both symptomatology and suicidal thinking.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms vary and can include the following usually occurring within 3 months of the introduction if the stressor and cause significant impairment in social, occupational or personal functioning

a. Depressed Mood

b. Sadness

c. Worry and anxiety

d. Poor concentration

e. Anger and disruptive behavior

f. Insomnia

g. Physical Complaints (headaches, stomachaches, palpitations, chest pain etc)

g. Low self-esteem, sense of hopelessness, feeling trapped or lonely, or showing signs of withdrawal

Typical Stressors include:

  1. Disruptions in close relationships

  2. Occupational losses of failures

  3. Major life changes such as leaving home, getting married, being separated from family and friends or loved ones.

  4. Failure – disappointments or losses

  5. Changing jobs or adjusting to new jobs

  6. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness

  7. Bullying

Organizational Management Tips

Adjustment disorder is an excessive reaction to an identifiable life stressor or recurrent stressors. A substantial amount of research suggests that psychosocial risk factors such as high job demands, low job control high effort- low reward, low social support may contribute to the development of depression and anxiety . Organizations can implement interventions that aim to prevent exposure to psychological and physical risk factors and thus reduce the risk for mental disorders. Adjustment Disorder can be prevented via proactive methods and strategies.

It is important to encourage culture and team cohesiveness onboard to facilitate adjustment , empower employees and promote well being at sea. Educate employees in acquiring appropriate communication skills, building supportive social networks onboard, and encouraging behavioral well being can lessen distress arising from stressors.

Empower your employees by encouraging active coping skills, communication skills, building supportive social networks onboard, implement resiliency training, CBT based prevention programs . Conduct regular screenings, implement stress management programs, psychosocial educational and training programs and wellness programs .

Psychoeducational programs have been found to be effective among military personnel increasing active coping skills and fostering resiliency.

Pathways to a safer working culture at Sea

Create a Vision Statement

  • Share the Vision Statement with your employees (seafarers)

  • Translate vision into concrete steps and goals to be achieved during the journey

  • Involve everyone to contribute their input in actualizing the goal by implementing a small step –

  • Communicate trust by setting clear expectations and rules , work schedules etc.

  • Provide regular feedback and guidance

  • Recognize and reward positive behaviors, and engage in active listening and problem solving when negative behaviors occur. Don’t focus on problem people but the problem situation.

  • Engage employees to think creatively in solving problems encourage sequential thinking “ What if…. Then…”

  • Embrace cultural differences and encourage openness to diversity

  • Educate employees on active listening, empathy and conflict resolution

  • Validate employees – Avoid labeling the person

  • Implement clear guidelines regarding bullying and harassment

  • Engage members onboard to openly address problems and encourage open communication channels.

  • It is very important for people to address and communicate issues of concern before they evolve into problematic behaviors or major issues

Work health can improve employee well being , performance and safety onboard

Personal Management tips

Personal empowerment is an important factor to successful adjustment onboard

  • Stay positive

  • Find a routine

  • Immerse yourself in the culture of the company

  • Take notes observe what is going on around you identify problem areas for you and seek solutions to possible problems

  • Set personal goals aligned with the vision of the organization

  • Be open and engage with others onboard by sharing information, ideas and thoughts, and when appropriate your emotions and thoughts.

  • Share and cooperate

  • Be trustworthy : when people trust you do your best to provide positive outcomes

  • Be accepting:

  • Be supportive

  • Understand both your personal strengths and weaknesses

  • Seek assistance when needed

  • Be courteous and respectful to your colleagues

  • Increase personal and interpersonal insight

  • Apply active listening skills, empathy and validation when communicating with others

  • Communicate appropriately and responsibly, resolve conflicts when they arise in socially proactive ways

Personal Empowermentis the key to personal adjustment and happiness