The global maritime industry has witnessed a worrying upward trend in cases involving the mental wellbeing of seafarers and the number of suicides recorded. Seafarers are predominantly male, come from a variety of nations, and speak a multitude of languages. They often spend months at sea with little or no contact with their life ashore, while working and living in limited spaces where there may be substantial amounts of noise, heat and vibration as well as the motion of the vessel.
The fact that more contact between vessel and home via WhatsApp, email and like is now available via satellite may turn out to be a double-edged sword, as more communication is possible. However due to restricted bandwidth and high cost seafarers may draw incorrect conclusions without common visual communication prompts, due to limited contact time, and there may be cases of more issues being raised but not resolved causing more concern rather than less. Distance from home and the working and living environment have usually been assumed to contribute to the high suicide rate of seafarers.
Source: Seafarers’ depression and suicide, Alex Mellbye, Tim Carter (2018) http://bit.ly/308dP3t
In 2015, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) conducted a study with more than 600 seafarers from a range of different countries. It was found that a considerable number (50%) of seafarers often or sometimes feel anxious, hopeless, or depressed while onboard. It was also found that a noteworthy number of seafarers know work mates who are depressed or have considered suicide.
Source: International Transport Workers’ Federation. (2015). Survey of ITF Maritime Affiliates on HIV / AIDS, Health and Wellbeing www.itfglobal.org
Combined with other research from, among others Yale University and Sailors’ Society, CNCo identified the need for training in suicide awareness / risk recognition for our seagoing personnel.
We have developed a training course in collaboration with Danish health and safety solutions consultants, CONOVAH, aiming to equip our senior officers with tools to spot warning signs at the earliest possible stage to avoid tragic events of this nature on board.
The training is conducted at the Safety Awareness Courses in Singapore by four office staff members who have undergone a three-day train-the-trainer course while a condensed version is presented at the regular safety seminars held with our manning partners.
Emotional support helpline
Since the introduction of “Befrienders Worldwide” e-mail helpline in 2016, CNCo has also established a Befrienders’ e-mail helpline service, available in both English and Chinese languages. In addition, an English voice helpline service is also provided. Befrienders Worldwide has an international network of over 350 crisis helplines in 36 countries that provides emotional support to those in despair. The inputs and outputs of the enhanced services are strictly confidential in nature.