The Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS) has renewed its contract with Big White Wall for another year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of the first major decisions taken since the appointment of new Chief Executive Officer, Sandra Welch, and reflects the current mental health crisis amongst seafarers. The announcement comes in time for International Day of the Seafarer, which this year focuses on seafarers as key workers, essential to shipping and essential to the world.
Speaking about the decision, Sandra Welch said: “We’re all living in a crisis situation at the moment with huge stresses and strains. But the strain on seafarers is particularly acute. It’s a tough job at the best of times, but now, with so many seafarers working well beyond the normal contract period, the strain is beginning to show. They’re anxious about their families, anxious about their health, and anxious about the future. That’s where we can help, with access to free online mental health and wellbeing advice and support through Big White Wall.”
Big White Wall is available free to all seafarers and their families through the Society. Users have access to trained counselors, self-help materials, a support network, and one-to-one therapy.
The Society has been funding the service since 2016 but recent take-up has been disappointing. “Seafarers are a resilient bunch and some may think this sort of thing isn’t for them. But we’re living in unprecedented times and that means we need to do things very differently,” explained Sandra Welch. “Seafarers are ‘keyworkers’ supporting us through difficult times. But they need support too and that’s where BWW comes in. No-one needs to know – it’s all entirely anonymous and confidential. We don’t know who’s using the service and that’s how it should be.”
The mental health of seafarers has been in the spotlight in recent weeks with a number of reported suicides and suicide attempts on board ships stranded offshore or in port. It’s now the foremost cause of deaths amongst seafarers. So time is of the essence, according to Sandra: “We really need to get the word out, now more than ever. So, tell your colleagues, tell your crew, tell your mates. Help is available – act now, before it’s too late.”