New guidance aims to help companies devise and implement mental health policies for seafarers

December 08, 2020
Mentally Healthy Ships Front cover image screenshot

An essential new guide Mentally Healthy Ships has been launched by ISWAN to provide shipping companies and ship operators with information to help devise and implement mental health policies and practices to promote and protect seafarers’ mental health.

ISWAN’s earlier series of Good Mental Health Guides, published between 2017 and 2018, aim to offer seafarers evidence-based information about what they can do to protect and promote their own mental health at sea. These guides were designed to adapt the evidence base to the seafaring population by carefully considering ways in which strategies to maintain good mental health and promote wellbeing could be practised on board. However, some of this self-help advice, is only possible if the facilities are made available to the crew. Employers have a critical role to play in executing their duty of care, through mitigating known risks where possible, and ensuring that systems, procedures and structures are in place to create a mentally healthy environment on board.

Mentally Healthy Ships is written by Consultant Clinical Psychologist and author of ISWAN’s Good Mental Health Guides, Dr Pennie Blackburn. It offers invaluable guidance on why it is vital that procedures and safety planning include due consideration of mental health, as well as information on how to implement it.

Dr Pennie Blackburn said: ‘There has been a growing awareness in the shipping industry of the importance mental health and wellbeing has in how well we people can function both on shore and on board. I am delighted to be able to share this new guide and I hope that the principles outlined in it will give companies practical and useful ideas to guide them to create Mentally Healthy Ships.’

The COVID-19 pandemic and related crew change crisis has put unprecedented pressure on seafarers with prolonged time on board exacerbating existing risks to mental health and presenting new challenges. During the peak of the pandemic, ISWAN’s 24-hour helpline SeafarerHelp saw a threefold increase in the number of cases and is still dealing with an increase in cases compared with the same time last year. Many companies have recognised the risks to seafarers’ wellbeing caused by the pandemic and have taken important steps to improve the support available to seafarers during this time. The crisis has highlighted a great need for all companies to review and strengthen protections to seafarers’ mental health as a priority and this new guidance can offer the necessary tools to ensure policies and procedures are robust.

ISWAN Executive Director Roger Harris said: ‘Working with shipping companies and others on the mental wellbeing of seafarers has convinced us of the need to produce a comprehensive guide for vessel operators on this key area. We know that this guide will practically help companies develop a mentally healthy environment onboard for all their seafarers.’

This much-needed resource complements ISWAN’s other work on seafarers’ mental health having worked closely with shipping companies over the last few years to provide Maritime Mental Health Awareness Training and assistance with mental health support through its 24-hour services.

Mentally Healthy Ships is available free for download below and ISWAN is inviting expressions of interest for an online masterclass on how to make best use of the guide to go ahead early next year.

ISWAN would like to thank Steamship Mutual for their sponsorship of the guide and the International Chamber of Shipping for their endorsement.

For further information about the guide or to express an interest in attending an online tutorial on Mentally Healthy Ships, please contact

Mentally Healthy Ships

A guide for shipping companies and ship operators to develop and implement mental health policies.


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