Health and safety

Sailors' Society issues 'rallying cry' over seafarers’ mental health

20 May 2019

The Sailors' Society maritime charity has launched a campaign to tackle suicide and depression at sea.

Not On My Watch was developed in reaction to an image being circulated on social media of a seafarer who had committed suicide while onboard. Sailors’ Society deputy chief executive Sandra Welch said the image was a 'stark indictment of the state of seafarer mental health', an issue that the Society has been working on for many years.

Launched in April 2019, the campaign has three aims:

  • to petition the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to make wellness training mandatory for seafarers under the ILO Maritime Labour Convention
  • to raise funds for the Sailors’ Society’s work supporting seafarers
  • to empower seafarers by offering wellness training and raising awareness of the issue

'Not On My Watch is a rallying cry to the maritime industry to make the mental health of their employees a priority,' she said.

More than a quarter of seafarers suffer from depression, according to a joint study by the Sailors’ Society and Yale University published last year.

The numbers of seafarers taking their own lives is shockingly high, with nearly 6% of deaths at sea attributable to suicide, according to research published by the Sailors' Society. That compares with 1% of deaths attributable to suicide across the UK as a whole. 

Ms Welch emphasised: 'One suicide is one too many. The fact that six times as many deaths at sea are attributable to suicide highlights how urgent an issue mental health at sea is.'

As part of the campaign, the Sailors’ Society is giving away 200 free e-licences for its mental health training, in collaboration with Humans at Sea, a digital media organisation, dedicated to sharing the lives of seafarers.

Humans at Sea director Aditya Giri, a former seafarer, was the first person to sign the Not On My Watch petition. Mr Giri suffered mental health problems following the suicide of a crew mate while sailing the Atlantic Ocean. There was no indication his friend had been depressed, which shocked him deeply: 'I fell into depression myself, burdened with one remorseful thought that clouded my mind at all times: could I have saved his life?

'This experience has helped me realise the importance of sharing your problems and asking your shipmates if they are facing any issues themselves. A simple acknowledgement could save someone’s life.'

At the time the Telegraph went to press, more than 2,300 people had signed the petition from over 80 countries.