open access

Vol 63, No 2 (2012)
MARITIME MEDICINE Original articles
Published online: 2012-09-03
Submitted: 2013-02-18
Get Citation

The Mental Health of Seafarers

Robert T.B. Iversen
International Maritime Health 2012;63(2):78-89.

open access

Vol 63, No 2 (2012)
MARITIME MEDICINE Original articles
Published online: 2012-09-03
Submitted: 2013-02-18

Abstract

Background: The objectives of this paper are to review published and unpublished information on the mental health of seafarers in order to 1) provide a window on the current status of seafarers’ mental health; 2) establish whether the mental health of seafarers in many cases continues to be very poor; 3) describe two current projects to improve the mental health of seafarers; and 4) suggest an industry-wide effort to improve the mental health of seafarers.

Materials and methods: A review of recent literature on the mental health of seafarers was made, and published statistics covering the years 1960–2009 were obtained. In describing seafarers’ mental health the use of rates to cite trends in suicides by seafarers was not employed. Statistics on seafarer deaths are given by two methods as percentages of deaths by suicide by seafarers. One compares deaths by suicide to total deaths and the second compares deaths by suicide to deaths due to illness. It is felt these methods are more readily understood by non-scientists who may be in policy-making roles in business or government. A detailed description covers two current projects to improve the mental health of seafarers.

Results: The causes of depression by seafarers are described. Statistics from 1960–2009 on the deaths by seafarers compared to total deaths of 17,026 show 1,011 seafarers died as a result of suicide (5.9%). Compared to deaths of 4,487 seafarers due to illness, 590 seafarers died as a result of suicide (13.1%). These percentages would be higher if 50% of deaths due to seafarers disappearing at sea were included. Based on industry data, in 2012 the daily expected costs to operate a 3,000–4,000 TEU container ship are US$7,825, and US$10,944 for a 10,000 TEU container ship — not including the cost of fuel oil. In 2011 a master who disappeared in waters off Australia may have cost the ship owner US$50,000–US$100,000 due to the voyage being diverted and delayed. Two projects to improve the mental health of seafarers, one by the Rotary Club of Melbourne South and another by the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare, are described. It is estimated that by the end of 2012 about 3,500–4,000 ships in 17 major Australian ports will have received booklets and leaflets for masters and crew members on the sole topic of depression from the Rotary Club of Melbourne South’s project The Mental Health of Seafarers. Recommendation for further action: A suggestion is made for a shipping industry project that could result in all merchant ships worldwide receiving mental health information based on the material produced by both the Rotary Club of Melbourne South and the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare.

Conclusions: The data on suicides proves that the mental health of seafarers in many cases continues to be very poor and often fatal. With deaths aboard merchant ships resulting from depression leading to suicide being widely reported, the damage to the seafarers, their families, and ship owners cannot be ignored. It strongly demonstrates the need for everybody connected with the international maritime shipping industry to do something about it. The mental health of seafarers and the economic health of the shipping industry will be improved as a result.

Abstract

Background: The objectives of this paper are to review published and unpublished information on the mental health of seafarers in order to 1) provide a window on the current status of seafarers’ mental health; 2) establish whether the mental health of seafarers in many cases continues to be very poor; 3) describe two current projects to improve the mental health of seafarers; and 4) suggest an industry-wide effort to improve the mental health of seafarers.

Materials and methods: A review of recent literature on the mental health of seafarers was made, and published statistics covering the years 1960–2009 were obtained. In describing seafarers’ mental health the use of rates to cite trends in suicides by seafarers was not employed. Statistics on seafarer deaths are given by two methods as percentages of deaths by suicide by seafarers. One compares deaths by suicide to total deaths and the second compares deaths by suicide to deaths due to illness. It is felt these methods are more readily understood by non-scientists who may be in policy-making roles in business or government. A detailed description covers two current projects to improve the mental health of seafarers.

Results: The causes of depression by seafarers are described. Statistics from 1960–2009 on the deaths by seafarers compared to total deaths of 17,026 show 1,011 seafarers died as a result of suicide (5.9%). Compared to deaths of 4,487 seafarers due to illness, 590 seafarers died as a result of suicide (13.1%). These percentages would be higher if 50% of deaths due to seafarers disappearing at sea were included. Based on industry data, in 2012 the daily expected costs to operate a 3,000–4,000 TEU container ship are US$7,825, and US$10,944 for a 10,000 TEU container ship — not including the cost of fuel oil. In 2011 a master who disappeared in waters off Australia may have cost the ship owner US$50,000–US$100,000 due to the voyage being diverted and delayed. Two projects to improve the mental health of seafarers, one by the Rotary Club of Melbourne South and another by the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare, are described. It is estimated that by the end of 2012 about 3,500–4,000 ships in 17 major Australian ports will have received booklets and leaflets for masters and crew members on the sole topic of depression from the Rotary Club of Melbourne South’s project The Mental Health of Seafarers. Recommendation for further action: A suggestion is made for a shipping industry project that could result in all merchant ships worldwide receiving mental health information based on the material produced by both the Rotary Club of Melbourne South and the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare.

Conclusions: The data on suicides proves that the mental health of seafarers in many cases continues to be very poor and often fatal. With deaths aboard merchant ships resulting from depression leading to suicide being widely reported, the damage to the seafarers, their families, and ship owners cannot be ignored. It strongly demonstrates the need for everybody connected with the international maritime shipping industry to do something about it. The mental health of seafarers and the economic health of the shipping industry will be improved as a result.

Get Citation

Keywords

Seafarers mental health; economics of seafarer deaths

About this article
Title

The Mental Health of Seafarers

Journal

International Maritime Health

Issue

Vol 63, No 2 (2012)

Pages

78-89

Published online

2012-09-03

Bibliographic record

International Maritime Health 2012;63(2):78-89.

Keywords

Seafarers mental health
economics of seafarer deaths

Authors

Robert T.B. Iversen

Important: This website uses cookies. More >>

The cookies allow us to identify your computer and find out details about your last visit. They remembering whether you've visited the site before, so that you remain logged in - or to help us work out how many new website visitors we get each month. Most internet browsers accept cookies automatically, but you can change the settings of your browser to erase cookies or prevent automatic acceptance if you prefer.

By "Via Medica sp. z o.o." sp.k., ul. Świętokrzyska 73, 80–180 Gdańsk

tel.:+48 58 320 94 94, faks:+48 58 320 94 60, e-mail:  viamedica@viamedica.pl