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Mental stress levels at sea dangerously high, study finds

27 Nov 2019

A wide-ranging study by Yale University – commissioned by the ITF Seafarers Trust – has found dangerously high levels of mental stress among seafarers, and recommended how it can be reduced.

The study spoke to 1,572 seafarers representing serving seafarers of different ranks across the world, on a variety of vessels with different flags. It found that within two weeks prior to being surveyed:

  • 20 percent had contemplated suicide or self-harm
  • 25 percent had suffered depression
  • 17 percent had experienced anxiety

The study also found a link between poor mental health and a greater likelihood of injury and illness on board. Possible causes identified in the study include lack of adequate training, exposure to violence or threats of violence and low job satisfaction, among other factors.

To tackle the mental health crisis as sea, the study goes on to recommend:

  • enhanced support for cadets, with proper training and an improved complaints procedures
  • efforts to de-stigmatise mental health in company culture
  • work to recognise and intervene to address workplace violence

Dave Heindel, chair of the Seafarers’ Trust and the ITF seafarers’ section, commented: “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.

“This should be taken as a call to action by everyone in the shipping industry. For our part, the ITF and its affiliates will share these findings as widely as possible to draw attention to this hidden problem – as well as to use them to lobby the industry for system changes to the working environment onboard ships.”

The report is available here.

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