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Sharp Health News

Supporting those stranded at sea

June 29, 2020

View from cruise ship on the ocean
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, orders to keep cruise ships out of port until safety precautions were in place left crew members stuck at sea.

Soon after, the phone began to ring in Sharp HealthCare’s Global Patient Services (GPS) department. GPS coordinates medical evacuations from around the world to a Sharp hospital, and often works with cruise ships to provide health care to guests and crew members.

While the ships’ infirmaries offered medical care, mental health support was limited, and many crew members were experiencing serious mental distress.

That’s where Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital stepped in.

“We used telehealth to evaluate crew members needing help and there was a common thread,” says Kim Eisenberg, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “Whether they’d had COVID-19 or not, they were all worried about their health and safety and that of their families in their home countries.”

Additional concerns included financial security, and how and when they’d get back to their home countries.

The Sharp Mesa Vista team also knew there were others on board likely suffering in solitude. They created a workbook for every crew member to help navigate some of the more distressing emotions they may be experiencing.

The workbook included research on the mental health of seafarers pre-COVID-19, such as the impact of extended periods away from home, isolation and loneliness — and how additional stressors from the pandemic could make those experiences worse.

“The hopes for the workbook were twofold,” says Eisenberg. “That it would provide useful, tangible coping skills to bolster their mental health during this current storm and beyond, and that it would bring the seafarers some comfort knowing there were people on land in San Diego who care about their well-being.”

Working on your mental health — as a seafarer stranded at sea or as a person dealing with stressors of our current society — requires daily practice. Sharp Mesa Vista caregivers recommended that crew members spend 20 minutes a day on the workbook exercises to support their mental health.

Here are two exercises from the workbook that could be helpful for anyone’s daily mental wellness routine:

Changing Negative Thoughts
A negative thought can begin as an internal dialogue that makes you feel sad, scared, mad or ashamed. These thoughts can cultivate desperation and a lack of trust that anything good will ever happen again.

Step 1: Catch the thought
  • “I will never be able to go home to my family.”
  • “I am not going to make it through this.”
Step 2: Check the thought
  • “Do I know that for sure?”
  • “Did someone tell me that is exactly what will happen to me?”
Step 3: Change the thought to a more helpful or true thought
  • “I am sad I am not with my family now, but I will see them again.”
  • “Some days are harder than others and I am still here.”
  • “It is a difficult situation and I will get through it.”
Ride the Wave
This exercise can help you tolerate overwhelming emotions. It begins with understanding the best strategy to approach a big wave in the ocean. Instead of running from the wave, you are taught to dive under, allow yourself to feel the water rush over you, and reemerge on the other side.

If you run from your emotions, they can come back and knock you down. Instead, it can be helpful to take time to feel your emotions.

To put this metaphor into action, the Sharp Mesa Vista team recommends setting aside five minutes to feel an emotion that you have been avoiding.

No feeling lasts forever, and just like waves, they come and go. Notice the intensity of the feeling changing and be sure to focus your mind if you wander. When the five minutes are up, reward yourself for your emotional work with something pleasurable, like your favorite TV show or a piece of chocolate.

Learn more about mental health services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and read important COVID-19 information from Sharp. As part of our efforts to keep you safe, we are offering teletherapy and virtual care programs that provide continued access to care. Admissions continue to be in person, so that we can assess patients for their individual care needs.

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