In support of World Mental Health Day, Atlas Professionals talks to professional Joseph Day, who has recently completed an expedition to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to raise awareness about mental health.
Mental health in the offshore industry
Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders; it is an integral and essential component of health. Mental health is ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’ (WHO).
The wellbeing of offshore workers is an important topic with implications not only for the professionals directly concerned, but also for the safety and smooth-running of offshore installations, for productivity and working efficiency and for the families of those involved. “It is more and more common these days for people to talk about their mental health, which is an excellent improvement. Yet offshore, mental health can still be a taboo. Also, some people are misinformed or misunderstand that you can have things going on that affect you mentally, but that they don’t stop you from doing your job and doing it extremely well,” says Joseph Day, Safety Officer at Atlas Professionals.
Not every mental health problem is a disorder. However, relatively minor issues, if not attended to, can become serious. The earlier workplace concerns are addressed and resolved, one way or the other, the fewer will progress to a stage of dysfunction or disorder. “Offshore it can be a pressure-cooker environment and bottling it up in such an environment is not good. Talking about mental health on a more open and regular basis, I believe, will take away the stigma and ensure we can better create a culture of support, acceptance and assistance,” says Joseph.
Climbing the Atlas Mountains
Joseph, who has faced some hardships in life himself, decided to push for the cause and raise awareness for mental health by completing an 8-day expedition to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. “We were a group of 16 ordinary people from the UK doing something extraordinary, while raising awareness and/or fund for different charities. Being outdoors is a great place to sort out your head and get a good perspective on life,” he says.
Once Joseph received some gear from Atlas and time off from his rotation, he was all set to climb three 4000-meter mountains. “It was very good to see how different everyone approaches a problem,” Joseph recalls. “Personally, I use humour quite a lot to talk about sensitive subjects like depression. People don’t like to talk about it, but when you can smile and laugh about something, at least it still gets talked about. Laughter is after all a very good medicine.”
Finding and giving support
Joseph has been on both sides of offering and seeking support whilst he was offshore. “When my relationship ended while I was offshore, I told the Captain about it. I’ve also spoken to peers and colleagues when it felt prudent to do so. I’ve just asked if they are OK, listened, talked through and pointed them in the right direction.”
Even the most cheerful person has days when they feel down. Likewise, a depressed person is sometimes more cheerful than usual – no individual is stuck in one spot all their lives. It is important to realise that individuals with a mental health problem are not different from the rest of the population, just at a different point on a continuum and that this can be changed.
“Opening up and sharing thoughts and concerns is a very effective way of gaining perspective, which in itself can really help when feeling overwhelmed,” says Joseph, who says honest, open and free communication is very important. “Whatever you think can or will be said or thought by others is really of little consequence. A job may be lost, bills not paid or people will talk. But you’ll get yourself back and will able to fight another day. At the end of the day, we’re all human. Let’s use that humanity,” Joseph concludes.
If you're concerned about your mental health of that of someone else, do not hesitate to seek advice from e.g. your GP, your Employee Assistance Provider (if applicable) or organisations such as Sailors’ Society.