Vol 68, No 2 (2017)
Review article
Published online: 2017-06-27

open access

Page views 9297
Article views/downloads 15968
Get Citation

Connect on Social Media

Connect on Social Media

Seafarers’ depression and suicide

Alex Mellbye1, Tim Carter2
Pubmed: 28660614
IMH 2017;68(2):108-114.


This review assesses available evidence on the frequency of and trends in depression and suicide among seafarers. Investigations of depression and suicide are scarce and the findings are inconsistent, they do, nevertheless, show indications of improvement although some recent case series do indicate that suicide remains a problem. A review of additional indicators for mental distress and lack of wellbeing supports the decline in frequency of problems, but nuances this in terms of the relative risks in different groups of seafarers, showing internal variations in the frequency of mental health issues among seafarers, with markers such as rank, type of voyage, gender, age, nationality and crew multiculturalism being relevant variables. The methodological limitations that hinder the understanding of depression and suicide in the maritime sector are identified.


  1. Sampson H. International seafarers and transnationalism in the twenty first century. Manchester University Press 2013: Manchester.
  2. Roberts SE, Marlow PB. Traumatic work related mortality among seafarers employed in British merchant shipping, 1976-2002. Occup Environ Med. 2005; 62(3): 172–180.
  3. Roberts SE, Jaremin B, Lloyd K. High-risk occupations for suicide. Psychol Med. 2013; 43(6): 1231–1240.
  4. Roberts SE, Nielsen D, Kotłowski A, et al. Fatal accidents and injuries among merchant seafarers worldwide. Occup Med (Lond). 2014; 64(4): 259–266.
  5. Roberts SE, Carter T. Mortality from accidents, disease, suicide and homicide in the British fishing industry from 1900 to 2010. Int Marit Health. 2015; 66(4): 211–219.
  6. Szymanska K, Jaremin B, Rosik E. Suicides among Polish seamen and fishermen during work at sea. International Maritime Health. Intl Marit Health. 2006; 5 7(1-4): 36–45.
  7. Oldenburg M, Herzog J, Harth V. Seafarer deaths at sea: a German mortality study. Occup Med (Lond). 2016; 66(2): 135–137.
  8. Iversen RTB. The mental health of seafarers. Int Marit Health. 2012; 63(2): 78–89.
  9. Bloor T, Kahveci M. The Global Seafarer: Living and working conditions in a globalized industry. International Labour Office 2004: Geneva.
  10. Canetto SS, Sakinofsky I. The gender paradox in suicide. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1998; 28(1): 1–23.
  11. Orszag, P, R. 2014. Why Do Men Commit More Suicide. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2014-08-20/why-do-more-men-commit-suicide (2014).
  12. Swift, O. 2015. Social Isolation of Seafarers; What is it? Why does it matter? What can be done? International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network. http://seafarerswelfare.org/news-and-media/latest-news/article-discusses-the-social-isolation-of-seafarers.
  13. Stravynski A, Boyer R. Loneliness in relation to suicide ideation and parasuicide: a population-wide study. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2001; 31(1): 32–40.
  14. Hammen C. Stress and Depression. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. 2005; 1(1): 293–319.
  15. Heinrich LM, Gullone E. The clinical significance of loneliness: a literature review. Clin Psychol Rev. 2006; 26(6): 695–718.
  16. Nock MK, Hwang I, Sampson NA, et al. Mental disorders, comorbidity and suicidal behavior: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Mol Psychiatry. 2010; 15(8): 868–876.
  17. The BIMCO and ICS Manpower Report. Published by Maritime International Secretariat Services Limited. 2015.
  18. Oldenburg M, Jensen HJ, Wegner R. Burnout syndrome in seafarers in the merchant marine service. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2013; 86(4): 407–416.
  19. BeşİkÇİ EB, Tavacıoğlu L, Arslan ö. The subjective measurement of seafarers’ fatigue levels and mental symptoms. Maritime Policy & Management. 2015; 43(3): 329–343.
  20. Abaya AR, Roldan S, Ongchangco JC, et al. Repatriation rates in Filipino seafarers: a five-year study of 6,759 cases. Int Marit Health. 2015; 66(4): 189–195.
  21. A Broader Vision of Seafarer Wellbeing: Survey of ITF Maritime Affiliates on HIV/Aids, Health and Wellbeing. http://www.itfglobal.org/media/819789/hiv_survey.pdf (2015).
  22. The Women Seafarers’ Health and Wellbeing Survey, 2015. Seafarers Hospital Society. http://seahospital.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/women-seafarers-health-and-welfare-survey-1-1.pdf (2015).
  23. Allen P, Wadsworth E, Smith A. Seafarers' fatigue: a review of the recent literature. Int Marit Health. 2008; 59(1-4): 81–92.
  24. Wang H. Study on the assessment of seafarers’ fatigue. World Maritime University 2012: Sweden.
  25. Hjarnoe L, Leppin A. A risky occupation? (Un)healthy lifestyle behaviors among Danish seafarers. Health Promot Int. 2014; 29(4): 720–729.
  26. Oldenburg M, Jensen HJ, Latza U, et al. Seafaring stressors aboard merchant and passenger ships. Int J Public Health. 2009; 54(2): 96–105.
  27. Carotenuto A, Molino I, Fasanaro AM, et al. Psychological stress in seafarers: a review. Int Marit Health. 2012; 63(4): 188–194.
  28. Thomas M, Sampson H, Zhao M. Finding a balance: companies, seafarers and family life. Maritime Policy & Management. 2003; 30(1): 59–76.
  29. Haka M, Borch DF, Jensen C, et al. Should I stay or should I go? Motivational profiles of Danish seafaring officers and non-officers. Int Marit Health. 2011; 62(1): 20–30.
  30. Rohde N, D’Ambrosio C, Tang K, et al. Estimating the Mental Health Effects of Social Isolation. Applied Research in Quality of Life. 2015; 11(3): 853–869.
  31. Shattell M, Apostolopoulos Y, Sönmez S, et al. Occupational stressors and the mental health of truckers. Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010; 31(9): 561–568.
  32. Apostolopoulos Y, Sönmez S, Hege A, et al. Work Strain, Social Isolation and Mental Health of Long-Haul Truckers. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health. 2016; 32(1): 50–69.
  33. Futurenautics Research: The Crew Communications Survey. 2014. Futurenautics. http://www.futurenautics.com/download/the-crew-communications-survey-2014-3/.
  34. Norman and Mellbye, 2017. The ITF Seafarers’ Trust Port-Based Welfare Services Survey 2016: Summary Report. ITF Seafarers’ Trust. http://www.seafarerstrust.org/the-itf-seafarers-trust-port-based-welfare-services-survey-2016-summary-report/.
  35. Tang, L. 2007. Coping with separation: Chinese seafarer-partners in cyberspace. Seafarers International Research Centre. http://www.sirc.cf.ac.uk/uploads/publications/Tang.pdf.
  36. Albert PR. Why is depression more prevalent in women? J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2015; 40(4): 219–221.
  37. Rosch, P, J. 2014. Why do women suffer more from depression and stress? The American Institute of Stress. http://www.stress.org/why-do-women-suffer-more-from-depression-and-stress/.
  38. Alagbe, J. 2016. Female seafarers’ shocking revelation: to our bossare just sex tools. The Punch. http://punchng.com/female-seafarers-shocking-revelation-bosses-just-sex-tools/.
  39. Thomas M. ‘Get yourself a proper job girlie!’: recruitment, retention and women seafarers. Maritime Policy & Management. 2004; 31(4): 309–318.
  40. Vision Critical, 2013. Attitudes in the Workplace: a study of sexism and discrimination in Britain. https://www.worldpayzinc.com/attitudes-in-the-workplace.pdf.
  41. Martin P, Barnard A. The experience of women in male-dominated occupations: A constructivist grounded theory inquiry. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology. 2013; 39(2).
  42. Nielsen D. Deaths at sea—a study of fatalities on board Hong Kong-registered merchant ships (1986–95). Safety Science. 1999; 32(2-3): 121–141.
  43. Nielsen D, Roberts S. Fatalities among the world’s merchant seafarers (1990–1994). Marine Policy. 1999; 23(1): 71–80.
  44. Ioana, V, R. 2013. Teaching intercultural communication skills or how to become a cross- culturally intelligent seafarer. http://iamu-edu.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/TEACHING-INTERCULTURAL-COMMUNICATION-SKILLS-OR-HOW-TO-BECOME-A-CROSS-CULTURALLY-INTELLIGENT-SEAFARER.pdf.
  45. Alfiani, D, S. 2010. Multinational and multicultural seafarers and MET students : a socio-cultural study for improving maritime safety and the education of seafarers. World Maritime University. http://commons.wmu.se/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1424&context=all_dissertations.
  46. Progolulaki, 2011. DEALING WITH THE CULTURE OF THE MARITIME MANPOWER IN A SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLe MANNER. http://www.he-alert.org/filemanager/root/site_assets/standalone_article_pdfs_0605-/he00755.pdf.
  47. Ion, A. 2002. Cultural diversity on board ships. Universitate Pentru Comunitate. http://www upm ro/ldmd/LDMD-02/Pol/Pol (2002).
  48. ZHAO M, AMANTE M. Chinese and Filipino Seafarers: A Race to the Top or the Bottom? Modern Asian Studies. 2005; 39(03): 535.
  49. Maritime Career Path Mapping. 2013. Nautilus International. https://www.nautilusint.org/media/169249/ETF-ECA-Maritime-Career-mapping-2013.pdf.
  50. Ljung, M; and Widell, G. 2014. Seafarers´ working career in a life cycle perspective - driving forces and turning points. University of Gothenburg. http://www.gu.se/english/research/publication/?publicationId=204970.
  51. Arsenie, P; Hanzu-Pazara, R; and Surugiu, F. 2014. Recruitment and Retention of Seafarers – what calls to and keeps individuals in a career at sea? International Association of Maritime Universities. http://iamu-edu.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ (2014).
  52. Gould, E, A. 2010. Towards a total occupation: A study of UK Merchant Navy Officer cadetship. ORCA. http://orca.cf.ac.uk/55023/.
  53. Guidelines on the medical examinations of seafarers. 2013. International Labour Office. http://www.ilo.org/sector/Resources/codes-of-practice-and-guidelines/WCMS_174794/lang--en/index.htm.
  54. Carter T, Siegel B, Mead H, et al. Who should profit from the business of science? Public money, private gain, profit for all. Hastings Cent Rep. 1987; 17(3): 5–7.
  55. Kahveci, E. 1999. Fast Turnaround Ships and Their Impact on Crews. Harbour Agency Limited. http://www.harbour-maritime.com/downloads.html.
  56. MacCalman, L. Shafrir, A. Cowie, H. Crawford, J. and Ritchie, P. 2011. Health care needs and access to health care among merchant seafarers and fishermen of working age based in the UK. Seafarers Hospital Society. http://seahospital.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Seafarers-Study-Report-August-20111.pdf.
  57. Fernando S. Mental Health, Race, and Culture. 2nd Ed. Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke 2002: Basingstoke.