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Mental Health Support & Solutions: Fake news heightens seafarer anxiety

Fake news and misinformation about the impact of Covid-19, exacerbated by social media usage, could be seriously impacting seafarers’ mental health and the industry needs to tackle the root cause before it gets much worse.

This is the view of psychologists at Hamburg-based Mental Health Support & Solutions (MHSS), specialists in providing mental health support and guidance to the maritime sector, who have expressed deep concern at the effects fake news is having on seafarers’ mental health.

Seafarers can find themselves not knowing what information to trust

Misinformation about Covid-19 surrounding lockdowns and government restrictions is adding unnecessary stress to seafarers and MHSS founder and clinical psychologist, Charles Watkins, is calling on the industry to tackle the root of the issue and for seafarers to communicate more.

Social media is often a double-edged sword with the obvious online communication benefits cruelly contrasted by the isolation it creates with seafarers missing their families and not physically communicating with each other, he tells Maritime CEO.

But problems start to emerge when seafarers, cut off from the outside world, find themselves believing what is in effect, fake news on social media.

“By losing a vital aspect of supervision and colleague-to-colleague interaction, seafarers can find themselves not knowing what information to trust,” Watkins says, adding: “We hear of seafarers going online and listening to uncorroborated stories and conspiracy theories. This creates an uncalculated variable that is bringing more anxiety to the entire problem with seafarers not knowing what is true and what is false.”

At times like this, it is important seafarers understand they need to check and verify the information they may receive. It is not just mental hygiene but also social media hygiene, Watkins urges. It is also important that they limit the time they spend on social media – maybe to just twice a day, he suggests. Overuse can cause anxiety and worry and distractions at work.

Remedying the problem can be as straight forward as setting limits to media exposure and educating officers and sea staff about heeding limits on access time to news and social media. “Get the seafarers to understand what is upsetting them, get them understanding how they can limit the damage and get them dealing with it,” Watkins says.

Communication is the key here, says Watkins, and also ensuring the shore-based superintendents are aware of the issues that might be affecting crew mental health is important.

Watkins and his team at MHSS have focused on maritime and the unique stress and depression this vocation causes, developing training videos and safety plans for crew and on-shore personnel.

MHSS has just finished its fourth superintendents course, teaching them how to deal with their own stress, first and foremost, because as Watkins maintains, good stress management can be translated throughout an organisation.

“It is the superintendents who are building the onboard communication networks and if they are controlling their own stress levels and communicating well in a crisis then that can impact positively when they are communicating with the staff onboard the ships,” Watkins says.


  1. Going on an operating ship as a guest for a few days cannot convey anything about what life is like for the crew. I have seen this so often. Since a crew is a cohesive unit “outsiders” are rarely welcomed. Their status seals them off from the running of the ship. It certainly gives a false idea of what seafaring is all about. I have never known anyone opt for a life at sea as a result of riding as a supernumerary and living in the ‘Owners Cabin”. As far as COVID 19 is concerned, l would guess that provided the crew is stable, and does not come into contact with outsiders, it would be easier to keep the virus at bay.
    If you want to know the mental state of seafarers why not enlist them in a survey of sorts, such as a diary recording their thoughts, feelings, emotional state, etc. Too often non-seafarers, especially academics, try to speak for seafarers. They cannot do it. Provided a self-survey is sold properly to the crew, l believe they will appreciate keeping a diary that someone will read and act on. Why not give it a try?

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