UK Club issues crew health advice on panic disorders
In collaboration with I.M.E.Q., Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Director at UK P&I Club, discusses the prevalence of stress and panic attacks for seafarers, and looks into how anxiety disorders can be alleviated:
“A life at sea entails dangers that are not present in many other occupations as seafarers work under threat of injury from accidents, piracy and illness, with high levels of exposure to such stressors known to induce panic attacks.
“Stressors in seafarers can be personal or directly connected to work conditions. Common occupational stressors for seafarers include overly strenuous or repetitive labour, the physical risks associated with a post, career prospects, employment and compensation and the separation from loved ones. Accidents that result in injury and pirate attacks can also be traumatising for the individual seafarer, intensifying anxiety and fear.
“A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear and discomfort that peaks within minutes and involves combinations of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Sweating, trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or feelings of choking or being smothered
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
“For an individual to be diagnosed with Panic Disorder, there has to be a recurrence of unexpected panic attacks, with at least one panic attack being accompanied by intense concern and worry about experiencing another panic attack. Panic Disorder most commonly occurs between the ages 20 to 45 and can become chronic if left untreated, with seafarers particularly susceptible given the nature of their work.
“Panic Disorder is treated through therapy and medication. Pharmaceutical therapies for panic attacks focus on immediate relief and prevention. The most effective treatment for anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which involves identifying, challenging and replacing negative thoughts with realistic ones, recognising symptoms, learning coping skills and confronting fears. CBT can teach individuals to deal with their panic attacks by helping them recognise what is happening to them and desensitising them from anxiety. Panic attacks can be prevented by seafarers onboard using relaxation techniques, practicing mindfulness, meditation, exercising and sleeping, as well as eating well and avoiding stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine.
“Shipowners can also play their part by creating an understanding and open working environment. For example, enhanced job security, as well as less time away from their families can reduce anxiety among crew. A review of working hours and ensuring adequate time for rest, improving the occupational conditions, having more accessible first aid and reducing the time spent at sea can also help improve both the physical and psychological wellbeing of seafarers, including the prevention of panic attacks.”
This advice was compiled with the help of the UK Club’s psychological and psychometric screening partners I.M.E.Q. You can watch their mental health video library at: www.imeq-magazine.com