Commissioned by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust charity, the goal of the study was to determine rates and factors associated with mental health conditions in seafarers and identify opportunities for preventive interventions.

This follows a similar study conducted by Yale and Sailors’ Society in March 2018, which showed that more than a quarter of seafarers show signs of depression and many won’t ask for help.

For the purposes of the study, seafarers with a PHQ-9 score of 10 or greater were considered seafarers with depression, and seafarers with a GAD-7 score of 10 or greater, seafarers with anxiety.

Additionally, seafarers with suicidal ideation were defined those responding “several days,” “more than half the days,” or “nearly every day” to the question,

Over the past 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?

Key figures

The results indicated that:

  • 25% had scores suggesting depression (significantly higher than other working and general populations).
  • 17% were defined as seafarers with anxiety.
  • 20% had suicidal ideation, either several days (12.5%), more than half the days (5%) or nearly every day (2%) over the two weeks prior to taking the survey.

Final determinants of seafarer depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation included work environmental factors (non-caring company culture, violence at work), job satisfaction, and self-rated health (the strongest predictor of anxiety and depression).

The most significant factor associated with workplace violence was seafarer region of origin.

Seafarers from the Philippines and Eastern Europe were most likely to report exposures to workplace violence.

In addition, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation were associated with increased likelihood of injury and illness while working onboard the vessel.

Seafarer depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation were associated with increased likelihood of planning to leave work as a seafarer in the next 6 months.

Meanwhile, the 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

While comparative data is limited, this analysis suggests that seafarers have higher rates of depression than other working populations, emphasizing the need for appropriate mental health policies and management strategies in this isolated, vulnerable, and globally essential workforce.

Recommendations

  • Companies should consider mechanisms to increase support for cadets and new recruits such as mentoring schemes, employee assistance programs, and promotion of awareness around mental health in the workplace.
  • Companies should ensure that they have appropriate training programs meeting the needs of the seafarers, with training regulations updated and enforced as needed.
  • There should be clear and effective complaints procedures and measures against bullying, harassment and workplace violence.
  • Seafarers should be encouraged to take frequent, regular exercise. Measures should be taken to ensure that seafarers have adequate, uninterrupted sleep for the avoidance of fatigue and associated depression.
  • Improving overall seafarer health through better access to healthcare (including more optimized medical treatment procedures on board, and access to physicians via telemedicine) may also lead to improvements in mental health.
  • Employers should work together with P&I clubs, unions, and other interested parties to prioritize strategies to mitigate the risks of poor mental health outcomes in seafarers.
  • The maritime industry should strive to de-stigmatize mental health matters and foster an inclusive, supportive environment in the maritime workplace.

 

Further details may be found in the following report: