A quarter of seafarers show signs of depression, says new report

More than a quarter of seafarers show signs of depression – and many won’t ask for help, according to a study of seafarers’ mental health presented at Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea conference, held recently in London.

The study of more than 1,000 seafarers was carried out by international maritime charity Sailors’ Society and Yale University, with more than one in six of the respondents coming from the UK.

Some 26% of seafarers said they had felt “down, depressed or hopeless” on several days over the previous two weeks.

The seafarers said the quality and amount of food onboard can have a big impact on their mental health, alongside isolation from their families and length of their contracts.

Nearly half (45%) of the seafarers who reported symptoms of depression said they had not asked anybody for help. Around one-third said they had turned to family and/or friends, but only 21% said they had spoken to a colleague, despite spending months on a ship with them.

Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea conference brought maritime leaders together to discuss the importance of seafarer wellness, its impact on the industry and how to combat problems like depression.

Dan Thompson, 29, from London, who had to take time out from his job as a navigation officer when he became depressed, spoke at the conference to raise awareness of the problem. He said: “The reason I became ill was primarily my job – the workload, the sleep deprivation and the pressures of the job.

“Having lived at sea I would anticipate the numbers of people suffering from depression to be even higher than those who admitted it in the survey.

“Our industry is generally more ‘macho’ than many others. The attitude is to just toughen up and get on with it. There is a fear of talking about it openly, of losing your job.”

Sailors’ Society, which celebrated its 200th anniversary this month (18th March), announced the survey results to more than 100 industry figures attending its Wellness at Sea Conference.

Sailors’ Society Deputy CEO Sandra Welch said: “Seafarers spend months on end at sea, facing some of the toughest conditions of any workforce – isolation, cramped living quarters, noise, heat, storms – sometimes they’re not even able to stomach the food onboard.

“This report is a wake-up call to the industry about the huge impact this is having on seafarers’ mental health.

“We’re working with shipping companies to help them offer the best care to their employees, who are the life blood of the industry and our global economy.”

Held at platinum sponsor Inmarsat’s 99 City Road conference facilities, the Wellness at Sea conference was chaired by Sailors’ Society CEO Stuart Rivers, with Euronav’s CEO Paddy Rodgers as keynote speaker.

The event featured presentations from all areas of the shipping industry including from Kuba Szymanski (InterManager), Sophia Bullard (UK P&I Club), Bridget Hogan (Nautical Institute), as well as a lively panel debate chaired by TradeWinds Editor Julian Bray, with Paddy Rodgers, Drew Brandy (Inmarsat), Ella Hagell (Tindell Riley [Britannia] Ltd) and Mark Robertshaw (Brightwell Payments).

In addition to headline sponsor Inmarsat, the conference was supported by silver sponsor UK P&I Club, and bronze sponsors Brightwell Payments, Wescom Signal & Rescue UK Ltd and Future Care Inc.

Maritime charity Sailors’ Society, which works with seafarers in 91 ports around the world, offers counselling and support to those struggling with depression.

Its Wellness at Sea coaching programme and app teach seafarers about wellness and give them practical tools to help them stay physically and mentally fit at sea. To find out more visit www.sailors-society.org/wellness/