Shipmanager sets up helpline to cut suicides at sea

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

09 October 2018


Singapore-based shipmanager Synergy Group has launched a new counselling service aimed at improving mental health support for sea and shore-based maritime personnel regardless of their employer.

iCALL is a free psychological helpline for the worldwide maritime community available 24/7 in nine different languages via phone, email and the chat-based nULTA App and is free of charge to maritime personnel worldwide. iCALL, which is confidential and anonymous, is available in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Sindhi and Kutchi.

“Numerous studies into the psychological health of seafarers have shown that large numbers of seafarers suffer from obvious manifestations of impaired psychological wellbeing such as social isolation and depression,” said Capt Rajesh Unni, CEO and Founder of Synergy Group. “That’s why we decided to create a 24/7 counselling centre for anybody who’s sailing, not just Synergy personnel. It is also available to shore-based personnel anywhere in the world.

“iCALL currently has 14 counsellors all located at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai to ensure peer support, supervision and standard professional counselling services,” said Capt Unni. “All the counsellors have at least a Masters degree in Clinical or Counselling Psychology.”

Prior to the launch of the service, all counsellors received three months of specialist training to help treat issues such as emotional distress, relationship and family concerns, suicidal thoughts, sexual and reproductive health, LGBT issues, violence against women, body image concerns and work-life anxieties.

The foundations of iCALL were put in place when Synergy Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, India, in August committing the parties to establishing the new service. It was subsequently inaugurated by Dr Malini V. Shankar, India’s Director General of Shipping, when she made the first call to the service last month.

Addressing industry leaders, principals and maritime technology and equipment providers last month at a two-day Synergy seminar in New Delhi, Capt Unni argued that the maritime industry should do far more to address mental health issues. “5.9% of all deaths at sea are proven suicides,” he said. “If the suspicious cases of probable suicides – seafarers that went missing at sea - are considered, then this figure jumps to 18.3% which means almost one in five deaths at sea is a suicide. “By any standards, that is terrible. Compare this to deaths ashore, where only 1% of deaths are attributable to suicides. There is no disputing we have a genuine problem here.”