Yale study finds 20% of seafarers have contemplated suicide or self-harm

A new study by Yale University has identified dangerous levels of depression, anxiety and suicide risk among the world’s seafarers. Commissioned by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust charity, the survey of the state of seafarers’ mental health exposes risks and proposes actions that can be taken to address the problem.

The study drew on a sample of 1,572 seafarers who were representative of serving seafarers across the world, of different ranks, on different vessels, with different flags. It found that within the previous two weeks of completing the survey a quarter of them had suffered depression, 17% had experienced anxiety and 20% had contemplated suicide or self-harm.

The Seafarer Mental Health Study for the first time also found a link between depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation (thoughts) and a greater likelihood of injury and illness onboard.

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

The significance of the link to violence and bullying at work had not been previously drawn so clearly. Seafarers from the Philippines and Eastern Europe were four times as likely to report having experienced or witnessed violence as those from Western Europe.

Dave Heindel, chair of the Seafarers’ Trust, stated: “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.”

Katie Higginbottom, head of the Seafarers’ Trust, commented: “This issue of violence onboard is very disturbing and warrants further investigation.”

Having examined the extent of the problems, the study includes a number of recommendations for maritime training institutes, companies, employers, P&I clubs and trade unions, including:

  • 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, including by: defining and measuring violence in the seafaring workplace; involving key stakeholders to identify sources and strategies to reduce workplace violence; and by supporting research in intervention evaluation, with dissemination of results to governing bodies, registries, unions, and shipping companies.

To access the full 32-page report, click here.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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