25 June marks the Day of the Seafarer with ‘Seafarers’ wellbeing’ as this year’s theme. Wellbeing, and particularly mental wellbeing, has become a hot issue in recent years both in the maritime sphere and beyond.
In spite of the enormous developments in human achievement with new technologies that increase efficiency and expand our understanding of the world, most working people have less time and more stress. Work-life balance is much touted but rarely achieved in a world of job insecurity and pressure to do everything quicker and cheaper.
The question of whether seafarers get more depressed than their land-based colleagues, due to the unique working environment, has yet to be determined.
Many factors make life at sea particularly challenging. Skype calls and facetime are no substitute for being there for key family moments. Seafarers sign up for contracts knowing that this is a choice and perhaps a compromise to bring in a good wage for the family’s future wellbeing. On the other hand when contracts are extended, beyond already long durations, or repatriation not honoured by companies the strain can be unbearable. Add that to the fatigue caused by long hours and punishing schedules make it vital to prioritise the well-being of crews.
With a view to increasing understanding of the strains on seafarers’ mental health, the ITF Seafarers Trust is pleased to announce that it has commissioned a piece of important new research with Yale University. The project will examine risk factors associated with seafarers’ stress levels, depression and anxiety to reduce stigma around mental illness in shipping as well as the suffering of those affected. The ultimate goal is to identify factors in the sector that could be changed to reduce the risks and opportunities for intervention to prevent harm.
On the Day of the Seafarer and on all days, let us value our seafarers and be mindful that the tough image of sailing the high seas, battling the elements, might hide an array of inner worries and vulnerability.