Mental health in ports: 28 March - 01 April 2022

How are you? It’s an easy question to ask, and more often than not the reply is an automatic ‘Fine thanks, you?’ We probably ask this question half a dozen times a day but always with the peculiar mutual understanding that we’re not actually asking. The phrase has become a greeting – the verbal equivalent of nodding your head at someone from across the room. Asking, and answering, the question sincerely is much more difficult, and can put both parties in a state of vulnerability that neither may be prepared for or comfortable with.

However, as a society, our understanding of mental health has significantly developed over the past few decades. Health issues such as depression or anxiety have grown in recognition, from a subject best left alone, to an important element of an individual’s overall health. In fact, mental wellbeing is inextricably linked to physical health, to the extent that, according to the Centre for Disease Control, those with low mental health experience much higher rates of cardiovascular diseases. To compound matters, there is also evidence to suggest that those with pre-existing cardiovascular or long-term illnesses will experience increased mental health issues. The only way this cycle can be broken is by addressing the root causes, and links, of both mental and physical ill-health. The general workplace health and safety consequences of this may not be immediately apparent, but workers who are preoccupied with health issues are more likely to end up involved in an accident. These are mostly preventable accidents, and yet stress, depression, and anxiety are estimated to result in 17.9 million working days lost in the UK each year.

This week, Port Skills and Safety is hosting Ports Mental Health Week – An opportunity for PSS and the wider ports community to identify their own practices in mental health and exchange policies that have worked for them. We will be sharing case studies of port workers who have suffered from depression and what has helped them escape their own individual downward spirals. On Wednesday we will be hosting a webinar, in association with Maritime UK, about physical and mental wellbeing, and we strongly encourage everyone to attend and participate in the conversation. We are also launching our second annual Mental Health in Ports Survey, which will provide employees the chance to anonymously inform us of how the sector is performing on a grass roots level. The data gathered from this survey will go a long way towards helping shape PSS mental health policy and provide operators a solid statistical foundation from which to build their mental health programs.

It is vital from a humanitarian, as well as practical viewpoint, to provide provisions for those who suffer from low mental health. For PSS, Mental Health Week is just one such provision, and we hope you join us in this important work –this week and as we continue to offer mental health-related services and discussions in the future.

Whether your port has a sophisticated social support network or is just getting started, it all starts with a simple question. How are you?