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Clinical Psychologist Dr Katija Khan

As hundreds of cruise ship employees anxiously await reunions with their families, clinical psychologist Dr Katija Khan says there is a significant mental health threat to them She says there is anxiety building up among the employees stranded around the world after countries closed their borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yesterday, National Security Minister Stuart Young finally announced Government is working on a plan to allow cruise ship employees and University of the West Indies students a safe re-entry into T&T.

But despondent and sceptical crew members still want to know when they will touch home soil.Khan said the likely impact of being stranded at sea could include heightened levels of distress, frustration, fear, worry, agitation and despair, which are negative emotional states. She said this will affect their functioning and also puts them at increased risk for mental health illnesses like clinical depression and anxiety disorders.“Stress can affect persons psychologically, cognitively, physically and socially. They may find their sleep, appetite, energy levels, mood, motivation, performance, interactions with others, physical health and substance use being impacted,” Khan said.

“The mental health threat to stranded cruise ship employees is a significant one and has also been linked to the death by suicide of some employees from other countries around the world. As such, their coping and resilience is of paramount importance.”

Khan explained that unlike individuals quarantined in local facilities, these employees do not have a clear timeline of when their confinement will end, making their situation even more challenging.

“I imagine many of them feel abandoned, punished and betrayed as they struggle to understand why other citizens are being repatriated and they aren’t. They may find it unfair and unjustifiable and as such, struggle to cope,” she said.Some of the cruise workers’ family members reached out to Guardian Media in the past week sharing their concerns for loved ones on the ships.

Khan said family members who try to advocate for their stranded loved ones will also be affected.

For employees, the current stressor is an indefinite quarantine but they also face potential job loss and loss of income as the cruise ship industry has been hit hard during the pandemic. She recommended the cruise ship companies and the Government share as much information as possible on repatriation to mitigate anxiety and stress. “This will help them manage their expectations in a healthy way and aid their understanding and coping,” Khan said.

“This communication should be dispensed in a sensitive and compassionate way that is cognizant of both the national health and safety concerns as well as the citizens’ need to be repatriated and the negative impact on their well-being of being indefinitely stranded at sea.” (KF)