As the world tries to recover from the effects of the recent pandemic, other key challenges to seafarers’ mental health are coming to light, particularly abuse, bullying, harassment and discrimination.
On World Mental Health Day, the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) has shared insights into the mental health challenges seafarers are reporting to its helplines.
Data from ISWAN’s renowned helpline service, SeafarerHelp (available for free, 24/7, to seafarers around the world), shows the significant impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting crew change crisis had on seafarers’ psychological wellbeing. Among those who contacted SeafarerHelp with mental health issues at the height of the pandemic in 2020, being stranded on board for long periods was a key factor for 39% of seafarers, while 14% said they were suffering from fatigue.
While the proportion of calls and messages to SeafarerHelp linking mental health with repatriation and fatigue has declined since 2020, another mental health challenge has emerged as a significant problem. To date in 2022, 15% of all seafarers contacting SeafarerHelp with mental health issues reported experiences of abuse, bullying, harassment or discrimination (up from 8% in 2021).
SeafarerHelp has received multiple calls from junior crew being bullied, threatened and/or verbally abused by their superiors. Some seafarers have reported being the victim of serious physical assaults. Such abuse has a profound impact on an individual’s mental health, which is exacerbated for seafarers spending long periods on board – seafarers talk about feeling depressed, hopeless, lacking in confidence, living in fear, negative impacts on their physical health, and even feeling suicidal.
Data from ISWAN’s helpline for those working in the superyacht industry, Yacht Crew Help, tells a similar story. Although the number of calls and messages to this helpline are much lower than SeafarerHelp because of different crewing levels, abuse, bullying, harassment and/or discrimination are collectively the issues which most commonly occur alongside mental health challenges for yacht crew. Crew members have sought support from Yacht Crew Help to cope with experiences of verbal abuse, bullying, sexual harassment and/or sexual assault at sea. In total, calls to Yacht Crew Help relating to abuse, bullying, harassment and/or discrimination more than doubled over the first three quarters of 2022, compared with the same period in 2021.
Simon Grainge, Chief Executive of ISWAN, said: