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UKSA Mental health Awareness week

We speak with UKSA's new welfare officer, Gemma Maskell, about mental health in the superyacht industry…

UKSA offers education and skills for people of all ages whilst helping them to understand mental health and well-being. SuperyachtNews recently caught up with the academy's new welfare officer Gemma Maskell who was keen to explain her role in helping to create an environment where students can thrive and prepare for a career at sea.

Maskell explains, “I work alongside my colleague Kim, I am one of the two welfare officers that teach well-being and mental health to the students. The idea is to give them a good understanding of mental health and how to have good well-being during the course - we are here all the time for them.”

She continues, “How it works is we do a day course with them where they get lots of information as well as signposting, so if anyone has an issue on or offshore they know who to ask for help and where to go. If they need any advice they can come here to us or they can get through to us through teams or phone calls.Whilst highlighting the importance of mental health, Gemma noted that a number of individuals come into the course with previous mental health issues, and so the education that they receive along the way then helps them deal with it.

“We try to make it enjoyable for the student, for some people when they are struggling they ask for a bit of advice and you can see how that bit of advice can positively impact them and help them grow within,” says Maskell.

The students at UKSA are of a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and for some, this safe space allows them to be able to have an open conversation surrounding mental health without the risk of prejudice. Mental health is still seen by some as a sign of weakness and victim mentality and is, therefore, sometimes regarded as being a ‘taboo’ subject. But by encouraging people to speak up and spread awareness, these social stigmas can be broken down, as Gemma puts it, “The students find it really rewarding because a lot of them haven’t had the opportunity to discuss issues such as mental health and well-being.”

The signs and causes that can affect a seafarer’s health vary depending on the individual and circumstance. In regards to the superyacht industry, Maskell explains some of the main triggers. “We cover homesickness and isolation as being offshore away from family and friends can be extremely isolating however we say you must predict these things before they happen, if you know a birthday is coming up make sure you have good internet and phone connection to stay in touch with family and friends.”

“Excessive workload can also be a factor and one major issue is the confined space and lack of personal space, a lot of people are not used to that. When it comes to the confined space, we do a lot of work on how they will be able to do exercise in a rectangle space and how to get mentally prepared to deal with that. The more prepared you are the more you will enjoy it, and that is what we want. Bullying can also occur on board but our focus then turns to how do they identify this and do they know who to go to? This is all extensively covered in the course.”

The conversation on mental health is still in the early stages, but according to Maskell there is still not enough conversation, the course talks about getting the most potential out of their lives and whatever career path they choose to go down in the superyacht industry.

“The best way to do this is to get qualifications and be a healthy person and have the resilience to continue, as soon as we get rid of the mentality of ‘man up’ or ‘pull your socks up’ people will then become more open to the idea of discussing mental health.”

“We have a lot of activities which involve group work, which allows everyone to zone out and be able to enjoy their work, having a day to celebrate the culture of the other co-workers or do a quiz, exercise. The smallest activity can improve the mind and make them feel better.”

Education onboard has been flagged as one of the most important and effective ways to help seafarers as it allows them to discuss mental health and come to grips with the idea of signposting. Maskell recommends that seafarers on superyachts download the app “Yacht Crew” as it provides all of the necessary information needed on board and the signposting that comes with it.

The superyacht industry has made great strides in recent years where mental health and well-being is concerned, however, there is still a great deal of space for improvement in this regard. This can be done in many different ways, but the industry can begin by focusing on educating its staff and those on board.

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