World Suicide Prevention Day: Creating hope through action

On September 10th, the suicide prevention day reminds us that every year more than 700,000 individuals commit suicide throughout the world, a figure which could justify an interest in a greater awareness on mental health issues. Suicide has become a more troubling topic for shipping over the past few years as awareness of mental health has grown.

The first World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) was established in Stockholm, on 10 September 2003 and this year’s theme is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’. It’s a reminder that through action, there is an alternative to suicide as an initiative of IASP and the World Health Organisation (WHO), designating the day as a way of focusing attention on the problem world-wide and confirming messages.

On this day, governments, organizations, and communities will take the opportunity to come together to address the issue of suicide and its impact on individuals, families, and societies.

Did you know?

The main goals of this day are to increase global awareness of suicide prevention efforts and to lower the incidence of suicide.

By creating a world where individuals facing emotional distress or mental health challenges can seek help, find support, and receive the care they need to prevent suicide, the percentages of suicide can be reduced.

 Suicide Warning Signs

  • Excessive sadness or change in mood: Long-lasting sadness and change in mood can be symptoms of depression, a major risk factor for suicide
  • Sudden calmness: Suddenly becoming calm after depression or change in mood can signal that a person has decided to end their life
  • Withdrawal: Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or socialising can be due to depression such as loss of interest or pleasure in joining activities.
  • Changes in personality and/or appearance: Someone considering suicide may exhibit a change in attitude or behavior, such as speaking or moving very fast or slowly.
  • Dangerous or self-harmful behaviour: Such as use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Recent trauma or life crisis: A major life crisis may trigger a suicide attempt.

Suicide at sea is an increasing concern

According to ICS, seafarers can be more at risk of suicidal feelings due to major life events such as a bereavement or due to a multitude of stressors causing a decline in a person’s mental wellbeing.

Many times, for many seafarers who face difficulties at work, might feel trapped and may not see a solution to their problems. Suicide may then start to seem like a potential solution for seafarers who may feel they are a burden to others who would be better off without them.

United Nations Human Rights highlights that the prevalence of suicide is an indication that the mental health of individuals and populations must be seriously addressed. This is a human rights imperative.

The number of seafarers committing suicide at sea each year is unknown. Yet it is known that seafarers commit suicide and the unique pressures and working environment at sea are contributory factors.

…The Seafarers Charity stated.

Moreover, after Covid – 19 pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of seafarers who suffer from severe depression (estimated at 25%) and the almost 6% of deaths attributed to suicide.

According to ISWAN, the number of calls and messages related to suicide which they received through ISWAN’s international helplines, including SeafarerHelp and Yacht Crew Help, more than double in 2021 compared to 2020 (39, up from 19). To date in 2022, calls and messages related to suicide remain over 50% higher than the same period in 2020.

Suicide rates might be higher for seafarers who have:

  • Lost a spouse through death or divorce
  • Previously attempted suicide
  • A family history of suicide
  • A friend/co-worker who died by suicide
  • A history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Long term pain or a disabling or terminal illness Inclined to violent/impulsive behaviour

Furthermore, as Mr. Jannik Grothues, Managing Director, MHSS, explains there is a rise in critical cases that include suicide ideation, panic attacks, and hallucinations on board.

According to the latest study of Department for Transport (DfT), discussions about how a crewmate dying of suicide showed that it can raise worries about one’s own future and how an individual might deal with their own pressures.

Participants described “creepy” and highly distressing incidents such as having to store crewmates’ bodies in freezers for weeks or months at a time, or situations where crew have attempted and failed to save a crewmate’s life.

How shipping industry is taking action

Depression rates are one factor that holds serious importance, but other factors to take into consideration are academic, performance, physical condition, mental health and well-being, economic standing, financial struggles, workplace performance, and overall life satisfaction.

ISWAN has developed mental health awareness training which is adaptable for all seafarer ranks as well as for shore side staff who support seafarers.

Moreover, the Mission to Seafarers (MtS) has been at the forefront of providing seafarers with essential support and care for over 160 years.

As explained, the SafeTALK course has been instrumental in promoting the welfare of seafarers. The course confronts the reasons why some people miss, dismiss, or avoid talking about suicide, empowering them to take action.

‘There is – sadly – still a stigma around mental health. The fact seafarers still don’t feel able to talk about it or access services says a lot about how far we still have to go in terms of reducing that taboo. This is exactly why we have launched our Wellbeing at Sea Tool (a digital survey that is completed by seafarers and on completion provides personalised advice on how to improve wellbeing at sea).

…said Katy Ware, Director of UK Maritime Services.

Moving forward

According to a 2022 UK report, for suicide to be effectively addressed, a more holistic and proactive attempt to tackle the mental health challenges facing seafarers is required.  From example, including mental health ‘fitness’ from the top down – through organisational and onboard culture – and from the bottom up – through cadet training and recruitment approaches – can serve as a catalyst to addressing this issue.

In light of the overall uncertainty around the reporting of suicide incidents, a problem about which the shipping industry is attempting to raise awareness, more focus should be placed on creating a central database and coming up with uniform methods of documenting suicide episodes. Additionally, targeted campaigns to increase public awareness of suicide could include a variety of tactics such social media campaigns, community gatherings, and educational seminars.

These campaigns will aim to destigmatize mental health issues, provide resources for those in need, and promote open conversations about suicide prevention. Additionally, collaboration among mental health organizations and professionals can ensure accurate information and support is readily available to individuals who may be struggling.

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