Health and safety

Loneliness puts seafarers at risk of poor mental health, says study

6 November 2019

A new study has urged cargo shipping companies to provide greater support to seafarers to help prevent anxiety and depression.

The research, conducted by Cardiff University, found that long working hours, isolation and extended periods away from home, put seafarers at risk of poor mental health.

Employers should provide self-help guidance on improving mental resilience and contracts that balance work and leave time, introduce anti-bullying and harassment policies, train officers to create a positive onboard atmosphere and set up confidential counselling services, the study says.

The Seafarers' Mental Health and Wellbeing report, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), also suggests the provision of onboard internet access, improved accommodation and recreational activities.

More than 1,500 seafarers completed a questionnaire on their experiences for the research, while face-to-face interviews were conducted with a small group of seafarers, employers, maritime charities and other stakeholders.

Lack of internet access, long periods away from friends and family, poor accommodation and food were among the leading causes of concern for those working at sea – confirming similar findings by Nautilus in its member surveys.

Professor Helen Sampson, who led the study with Neil Ellis of the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC), says there is evidence that recent-onset psychological disorders are increasing among serving seafarers, yet 55% of employers said they had not introduced any policies or practices to address mental health for a decade.

One seafarer interviewed said: 'Between pressure, workload, no days off and you are a gazillion miles away from home with limited communication, what do you think is going to happen?'

Another said: 'Three months on land is nothing. You can't see your kids grow up; you can't see anything. You are just like an uncle coming and going.'

Professor Sampson, Director of Cardiff University's SIRC said: 'It is all too easy for seafarers working out on the deep ocean to be invisible to those ashore.

'Their remoteness allows for abuse to go undetected. Sometimes seafarers are subjected to bullying and harassment by superiors and colleagues on board. However, many employers also mistreat seafarers by failing to provide decent and humane living conditions which promote good mental wellbeing.'

Researchers' main recommendations are:

• At least four activities from table tennis, darts, barbecues, karaoke, bingo, and card and board games;
• A gym with at least three pieces of equipment;
• At least two facilities from a sauna, a book and DVD library, satellite TV with cabins and a library of interactive video games;
• Comfortable mattresses and furnishings within cabins;
• Shore leave at every opportunity for all ranks;
• Varied, good quality food.

View the full report at the IOSH website