Every year we celebrate World Mental Health Day on 10 October. The theme for 2023 set by the World Foundation of Mental Health is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’, and at Seas the Mind this is our fundamental belief.
Having lived and worked on yachts for many years, first as a stewardess and then a chef, and now as a mental health training provider, my experience and love for the yachting industry have only deepened over time. Following these many years and incarnations, during the Monaco Yacht Show this year I was honoured to present at Yachtie Minds Matter: A Mental Health Conversation with Captain Kelly Gordon.
The event was organised by ACREW and hosted at the Oceanographic Museum. Founded by HSH. Prince Albert II of Monaco's great-great-grandfather Prince Albert I, it was a beautiful and fitting venue which has been watching over our oceans for more than a century.
Mental health is a very broad arena but in the context of yachting, the topics that continue to surface (also during the recent Pearls of Wisdom event in Antibes), are harassment, bullying, and sexual harassment. However, when confronted with these behaviours themselves, crew are often reluctant to call it out, or don’t know who to turn to. Captain Kelly Gordon and I therefore decided to focus our presentation on empowering crew to speak up, and to make the session as interactive as possible, we included Q&As throughout.
Over 60 people attended, with roughly 50% being active yacht crew and 50% representing management, brokerages, insurance firms and flag, to name a few. We had some brilliantly provocative questions and equally candid answers, which sparked honest and open discussion. We heard from crew who had experienced traumatic events firsthand; we uncovered shortfalls and discussed accountability across the chains of command and support. There was a powerful and galvanising atmosphere in the room from start to finish.
Can yachting ever change?
All too often, I hear that yachting can’t or won’t change. But living in a busy, crowded and multicultural city like London, where charters and community initiatives exist to raise awareness about the safety of women, I ask myself if yachting is talking enough - or doing enough - to promote the safety of women in our industry.
After attending a local Culture Bar women’s safety workshop, I want share what I learned and pass it on to all of you working on board.
Let’s start by looking at what happens before and after an accident or assault takes place, and consider the various responsibilities and actions that should be taken.
First and foremost, we need to PREVENT. We need to focus on prevention from the top down, developing onboard policies with clear processes, supported by ongoing training. When an incident occurs, managers need to INVESTIGATE. This involves following agreed procedures and taking account of both sides. Finally VICARIOUS LIABILITY refers to the responsibility that crew members need to take for themselves, not just at work, but also with the understanding that we live together, eat together, holiday together, and socialise together. Throw in alcohol and we have the added potential for grey areas around harassment and consent.
Fundamentally, it’s important that we all know what harassment looks like, that we have procedures in place, and that we can be sure managers have got our back.
The importance of training and leadership
Now, what about the HODs? Leaders have a duty of care and the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and prevent incidents from happening is to foster a healthy CULTURE, and the best way to do this is to lead by example. We can also provide SUPPORT when incidents happen, simply by believing and investigating both parties until you have a better understanding of the situation. Again, PROCESS is vital, with clear and consistent messaging so the crew members involved (and those not involved), know what to do, or who to speak to.
We all know that bad behaviours flourish in the shadows, whether it be bullying, harassment or sexual harassment, but by shining a spotlight we can reduce the incidence and help to keep crew physically, mentally, and socially healthy.
But what about individual crew members in the grips of a difficult situation? What should you say or do?
PREVENTION is always better than cure, so on a daily basis we should all be alert to the signs and empower our teams (and ourselves) to notice and act. As with physical health, we need to be proactive with mental health first-aid, engaging in open dialogue and regular drills to build awareness.
We all know that accidents happen at sea, but if an incident begins to unfold, we need to intervene to DE-ESCALATE and prevent it from spiraling out of control. Sometimes a quiet word will suffice, and sometimes we may need to clearly remind the perpetrator that their behaviour is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated. To enable crew to deal with such situations safely and effectively, we need to give them the confidence and tools by providing proper training.
In conclusion, what we know from multiple studies and mental health professionals is that when individuals feel psychologically safe they perform better, they feel happier, and they tend to stay in a particular role for longer.
At Seas the Mind, we believe mental health is a universal human right. It's what we want for our family, friends and colleagues around the world, who deserve to feel safe with the humans to whom they entrust their lives on the high seas. Training is vital, and I continue to push that message. Prevention is always best and we have to be in this fight together.
If you want to be part of this movement and want to know more about mental health training and the resources available, please feel free to get in touch via email@example.com.