There is continuing uncertainty about the mental health consequences of working as a seafarer, notably whether there is an excess risk of suicide. The Trust recently held a workshop to explore current knowledge and perspectives on SIDS. The report from this meeting and the associated review paper on the current state of knowledge may be accessed at Seafarerstrust.org/publications.
The Trust has developed a series of strategic priorities following the workshop and these are listed in the report. These include investigative work to help define contributory risk factors and the scope for intervention. The Trust is seeking collaborating centres to take these items forward so that the dimensions of SIDS in seafarers are better defined, enabling a coherent and valid approach to risk management to be developed and promoted throughout the international maritime industry.
The research questions to be addressed
- What is the relationship between living and working at sea, in particular social isolation, and mental distress or mental ill-health, both short and long term? How do these factors contribute to suicide and to unfitness to continue working at sea?
- What is the effect of population variables within the international seafaring population on these relationships?
- Is there an excess risk of suicide in seafarers compared to other groups in the working population, if so are any sub-sets of the population who are at particularly high risk and can any aspects of life and work at sea be identified as contributory causes?
- What methods of intervention have the potential to be used in seafaring populations to reduce any adverse effects of seafaring on mental ill-health and suicide.
The Trust will look more favourably on proposals that aim to explore some of these questions in depth rather that less well constructed proposals that attempt to cover all questions in a superficial way. All proposals should build on and not duplicate the report of the workshop and the associated background paper or other published studies.
The Trust has two main reasons for commissioning these studies:
- To encourage the sector to take steps to reduce mental distress and its serious consequences in seafarers. The case for action needs to be supported by valid information on absolute and relative risk based on comparisons of risk both within the seafaring population and with other relevant groups. Good employers are likely to co-operate willingly, but the Trust will also work with other agencies such as the ITF Affiliates, seafarer centres and mission organisations to create climate of opinion that spreads good practice to all ships and flags.
- To ensure that seafarers suffering from mental ill-health or the dependents of those who have committed suicide are not stigmatised and are entitled to the same benefit and support arrangements as those with other forms of illness or who have died while working in the industry. This will include ensuring that medical selection processes for work at sea do not unjustifiable discriminate against such seafarers except insofar as it is required to safeguard maritime safety and health.