Crew Created: Seas the Mind

1 December 2020 By Lauren Beck

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Emma Ross launched her new Mental Health First Aid training in June 2020. If nothing else, 2020 has been an exercise in managing our own mental health as the usual disappeared in a fog of lockdowns and quarantines. If you’re like most, a little help in coping will not go amiss.

Ross has a bachelor’s degree in psychology but is also a veteran crewmember of 15 years. She started off on motor yachts, working on board vessels including M/Y Bravado, M/Y Galaxy, and M/Y Romanza, before switching to sailing yachts, where she worked aboard S/Y Saudade, S/Y Mystery, and S/Y Indio. She currently works on rotation and while ashore, she runs Seas the Mind through the Kelly’s Cause Foundation. “I get to kind of keep my toe in yachting and keep updated with everyone,” Ross says.

Seas the Mind provides Mental Health First Aid training to crew, both online and in person. As mental health has come to the forefront in recent years, and perhaps more so this year with the pandemic, Ross notes that there’s not a lot out there to support crew in this way. “We want to bring a mental health first-aid solution to seafarers,” Ross says. “We’ve already got that basis of understanding of how important it is to look after ourselves,” Ross points out — there’s no ambulance coming to the rescue when you’re at sea. “So for me, it’s just a really obvious extension that we would also then be looking after our own mental health.” It’s important to Ross to eliminate the stigma around mental health, too. While the awareness of the issue is there, “the next part is we just have to kind of keep talking to people about it and get them to reframe it and understand that it’s not something to be ashamed of,” she says. The last part is the training, and that’s where Seas the Mind can help.

Seas the Mind currently offers two courses — one is a half-day (four-hour) mental health awareness course that provides attendees with an overview of mental health, including how to look after your own, the language and stigma surrounding mental health, and how to start conversations with people in the workplace. The second is a two-day course with modules broken down into four sections. Ross notes that while all training can be completed online, she prefers for the two-day course to be taught in person as it handles some tough topics and she likes to be able to see people’s faces to gauge their reactions. Of course, with the pandemic, this might not be possible.

The idea, Ross explains, is that this training is similar to first aid for physical health — you might not be a doctor or nurse, but you will do everything you can to prolong life until a doctor arrives. “And it’s exactly the same with mental health first aid,” Ross says. “So we’re not saying we’re therapists or counselors or psychologists, but we are there. And we train people to do exactly the same as physical first aid — get that person out of crisis, get that person to a place of safety or a position of head safety until they either get off the boat, [or] get some help shoreside.”

Crew who complete the courses receive certificates as Mental Health First Aiders. Ross believes the course should be an essential addition to STCW95 and the ENG1 and is trying to make that happen.