The UK Government released its Wellbeing at Sea Tool alongside a report into seafarer suicide and mental health.
The report Suicide and Seafarers is the result of 20 interviews carried by Ipsos on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Department for Transport (Dft) in March and April 2022 with shipping company and shipowner representatives, shipping management companies, insurers, maritime charities, chaplains, unions, and academics. Timescale for approvals and potential distress prevented direct interviews with seafarers.
Among the key findings of the research were that isolation, fatigue, financial instability and long working hours all impose strain on seafarers’ mental wellbeing, with further strain added by COVID-19.
Mental health issues were described as poorly understood, both among seafarers and across the industry, and not all seafarers feel comfortable about accessing mental health support services where they are available, in part due to cultural stigmas around mental health and concerns over confidentiality.
When it came to suicide among seafarers, the report found the issue to be serious and that there was more work to be done in addressing it.
Suicides were traumatic for crews, worsening mental health for those left behind who often blamed themselves. The recording of seafarer suicide is patchy as the term seafarer requires definition, recording instances is non-standardised and the desire to protect the family of the deceased emotionally and financially from any insurance implications leads to under-reporting.
Recommendations from the report were that mental health be tackled with a preventative and holistic approach, rather than reactively. The report also recommended embedding a top-down culture of mental health fitness throughout organisations and onboard vessels, leveraging training and recruitment processes.
Better data collection could also help reduce the stigma around discussing mental health as well as improving data quality, said the report.
MCA also released a digital tool aimed at improving seafarer mental wellbeing by suggesting practical advice to seafarers based on their responses to a range of questions
The Wellbeing at Sea Tool claims to help organisations monitor wellbeing and support their employees.
Maritime Minister Robert Courts said, “I want the maritime sector to be an inviting one, and for it to move with the times and recognise that, while offering incredibly rewarding careers, life at sea can be incredibly lonely and stressful.
This new report will help us to address this important issue, and with support from the MCA with its new online service, we will continue to challenge the sector to take action to ensure all seafarers are properly supported on land and at sea.”
Once seafarers complete the digital survey, personalised advice is provided on improving wellbeing at sea; managers are also then informed of areas for improvement by collating the anonymised data.
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