Study: More Than a Quarter of Seafarers Polled Reported Signs of Depression

oil tanker crew member
Photo: Anatoly Menzhiliy / Shutterstock

More than a quarter of seafarers reported showing symptoms of of depression, according to a study of seafarers’ mental health presented this month during a Wellness at Sea conference this in London.

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

According to the study, 26 percent reported they had felt “down, depressed or hopeless” on several days over the previous two weeks.

Not surprisingly, many seafarers said that isolation from their families and length of their contracts have a big impact on their health, but the quality and amount of food on board was also found to have an impact, the study showed.

Nearly half (45 per cent) of the seafarers who reported symptoms of depression said they had not asked anybody for help. While around one-third said they had turned to family or friends, only 21 percent said they had spoken to a colleague on board despite spending months on a ship with them.

Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea conference brought maritime stakeholders 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, had to take time out away from his job as a navigation officer due to depression. He spoke at the conference:

“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,” Thompson said.

Sailors’ Society works with seafarers in 91 ports around the world and offers counselling and support to those struggling with depression and other issues. 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.

Sailors’ Society Deputy CEO, Sandra Welch, commented: “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 on board.

“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.”