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My Mental Health After Witnessing Injury Onboard

Handling and managing emotions following a witnessed injury onboard a vessel is crucial not only for the individual’s mental health but also for maintaining safety and operational efficiency. The intense environment of a ship can amplify reactions and emotions, making it essential to address both the immediate and long-term emotional impacts of such incidents.

Outline for Handling and Managing Emotions

  1. Immediate Response to the Incident

  • Ensure Safety: First, make sure the area is safe for yourself and others. Prevent further injuries.

  • Provide Assistance: If trained, provide first aid or assistance to the injured person according to the ship's emergency procedures.

  • Report the Incident: Follow the vessel's protocol for reporting injuries immediately to the appropriate personnel. 2. Initial Emotional Response

  • Recognize Your Reaction: It’s normal to feel shock, guilt, fear, or anger. Recognize these feelings as valid responses to a traumatic event.

  • Breathing Techniques: Use deep breathing exercises to help manage immediate shock and stress.

  • Support Each Other: Lean on your fellow crew members for initial support. Sharing your immediate thoughts and emotions can be beneficial. 3.Post-Incident Debriefing

  • Participate in Debriefs: Attend any debriefing sessions held onboard. These are not only for reviewing what happened but also for expressing concerns and emotions about the incident.

  • Professional Support: Utilize onboard or telehealth mental health resources. Speaking with a counselor can help process what you witnessed. 4.Long-Term Coping Strategies

  • Routine: Stick to your daily routine as much as possible to provide a sense of normalcy.

  • Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition, exercise, and sufficient sleep.

  • Stay Connected: Keep in touch with family and friends back home. Sharing your feelings with loved ones can provide additional support.

  • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Practice mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation techniques to manage ongoing stress and emotional upheaval. 5.Ongoing Support and Monitoring

  • Monitor Your Emotional Health: Be aware of signs of prolonged distress, such as persistent sadness, anxiety, or difficulty sleeping.

  • Seek Continuous Support: Continue to seek support from mental health professionals if you're struggling with your emotions after the incident.

It's essential to recognize the signs that indicate you've been mentally affected by the incident. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one condition that can arise after such events, characterized by specific symptoms that can impact your life and well-being.

Signs of PTSD

  1. Intrusive Thoughts: Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event; flashbacks (feeling like the event is happening again); or nightmares about the event.

  2. Avoidance: Making efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations, places, people, and activities that remind you of the traumatic event.

  3. Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood: Inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about yourself or others, distorted feelings like guilt or blame, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, and feeling detached or estranged from others.

  4. Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions: Being easily startled or frightened, always being on guard for danger, self-destructive behavior (such as drinking too much or driving too fast), trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior, and overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame.

How to Manage Your Emotions

  1. Seek Professional Help: If you recognize symptoms of PTSD in yourself, seeking help from a mental health professional is crucial. They can offer therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that are effective for PTSD.

  2. Establish a Routine: Maintaining a daily routine can provide a sense of normalcy and control. Include regular exercise, which can help reduce stress and improve your mood.

  3. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation can help manage stress and anxiety.

  4. Stay Connected: Share your feelings with trusted friends, family, or colleagues. Social support is crucial for recovery from traumatic stress.

  5. Limit Exposure to Triggers: While avoidance is a symptom of PTSD, strategically limiting exposure to known triggers can help manage symptoms as you seek treatment.

  6. Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Prioritize sleep, nutrition, and physical health. Avoid excessive alcohol or drug use, which can worsen symptoms.

  7. Self-Compassion: Remind yourself that your reactions are a normal response to an abnormal event. Be patient with your recovery process.

  8. Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a therapeutic way to process your emotions and track your recovery progress.

Who can I talk to about my feelings?

  1. Onboard Medical Officer or Designated Person Ashore (DPA): First, consider speaking with the ship's medical officer, if there is one onboard. They can provide initial support and advice. If your symptoms are severe or the ship does not have a medical officer, you can contact the Designated Person Ashore (DPA). The DPA is there to ensure the safety and well-being of the crew and can facilitate access to medical or psychological support.

  2. Captain or Senior Officers: You can also approach the captain or any senior officer you feel comfortable with. They are trained to handle such situations and can provide you with the necessary guidance or referrals for further support.

  3. Peers on Board: Sometimes talking to a fellow crew member who you trust can be the first step in seeking help. They might not provide professional advice, but sharing your feelings with someone who understands the unique pressures of life at sea can be comforting.

  4. Family and Friends: Don’t underestimate the power of your support network back home. Reaching out to loved ones can provide you with emotional support and encouragement to seek professional help.

Witnessing an injury onboard can be a traumatic experience, triggering a wide range of emotional responses. By acknowledging these emotions, utilizing available resources, and adopting coping strategies, seafarers can manage their emotional well-being in the aftermath of such incidents. It’s crucial for maritime organizations and ship management to provide access to mental health resources and create an environment where seafarers feel supported both immediately following an incident and in the long term.

Resources Available for Seafarers

  • International Maritime Health Association (IMHA): Offers guidelines and resources for mental health and well-being onboard.

  • SeafarerHelp: A free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers available 24/7.

  • ISWAN (International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network): Provides support, information, and a range of resources on seafarers' welfare, including mental health.

  • Maritime Telemedical Assistance Service (TMAS): Offers medical advice and support, including psychological support, to ships.

  • Company-Specific Resources: Many shipping companies have their own support systems and programs for crew welfare, including access to mental health professionals and confidential counseling services.

  • Peer Support Programs: Some vessels and companies have peer support programs where crew can receive training to support each other in times of need.


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