Health and safety

Shipping industry urged to act as study reveals high levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among seafarers

21 November 2019

A new study by Yale University has prompted a call for action to the shipping industry after it identified potentially dangerous levels of depression, anxiety and suicide risk among the world's seafarers.

Commissioned by the ITF Seafarers' Trust charity, 'The Seafarer Mental Health Study' also found a link between depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and the greater likelihood of injury and illness on board.

Violence and bullying at work were also linked to poor mental health, with seafarers from the Philippines and Eastern Europe four times as likely to report having experienced or witnessed violence as those from Western Europe.

It found that within the previous two weeks of completing the survey, a quarter of them had suffered depression, 17 percent had experienced anxiety and 20 percent had contemplated suicide or self-harm.

Dave Heindel, Chair of the Seafarers' Trust, said: 'The more we talk about mental health, the more we reduce the stigma associated with it. This report really helps us to understand the contributing factors and provides a basis for demanding some fundamental changes in the way the shipping industry operates.'

Mr Heindel said the findings should be 'taken as a call to action by everyone in the shipping industry.'

Katie Higginbottom, Head of the Seafarers' Trust, said: 'The lives of seafarers are known to be tough. This study shows them to be generally healthy and resilient but subject to massive pressures that are, for the most part, manageable. This issue of violence on board is, however, very disturbing and warrants further investigation.'

The study echoes the findings of a report by Cardiff University earlier this month, which found that seafarers on cargo ships were at risk of poor mental health due to long working hours, isolation and extended periods away from home.

Also, this month, the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report found that those working on cruise ships and ferries are among the unhappiest in the shipping industry.

Yale's survey identified the following factors as being associated with the feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts:

  • Lack of adequate training
  • An uncaring work environment
  • Exposure to violence or threats of violence
  • Co-existing medical conditions (including cardiac disease and sleep disorders)
  • Low job satisfaction
  • Ill heath

The study's recommendations for maritime training institutes, companies, employers, P&I clubs and trade unions, include:

  • Enhance support for cadets, ensure proper training and make improvements to complaints procedures
  • De-stigmatise mental health within company culture
  • Recognise and address the need for interventions to address workplace violence

The study drew on a sample of 1,572 seafarers across the world, of different ranks, on different vessels, with different flags.

The ITF Seafarers' Trust is a UK-registered charity that funds programmes to advance the health and wellbeing of maritime workers. For more details visit